Constitutional Court Denies South African Government’s Right to Appeal High Court Ruling on Nevirapine Distribution
South Africa's Constitutional Court today denied the government's right to appeal the Pretoria High Court's December ruling that the government must provide nevirapine to HIV-positive pregnant women in state hospitals to reduce the risk of mother-to-child HIV transmission, SAPA/SABCnews.com reports (SAPA/SABCnews.com, 7/5). The court's ruling -- a "victory" for HIV/AIDS activists, including the advocacy group Treatment Action Campaign, which originally filed the suit against the government -- "removes the last obstacle put up by the government" for universal distribution of the drug, according to Reuters/Lexington Herald-Leader. Chief Justice Arthur Chaskalson said that the government's restriction of the drug's distribution to 18 pilot sites "fell short of its constitutional obligation to offer the best treatment available." He added, "Government is ordered without delay to remove the restrictions that prevent nevirapine from being made available for the purpose of reducing risk of mother-to-child transmission of HIV at public hospitals and clinics that are not research and training sites" (Chege, Reuters/Lexington Herald-Leader, 7/5). TAC leader Zackie Achmat, who is HIV-positive but refuses to take antiretroviral drugs until the government makes them available to all South Africans, "welcomed" today's decision and said that the court's ruling "gave him hope that the government would change its position on making antiretroviral drugs available as therapeutic treatment for all HIV-positive people, not just for mother-to-child transmission prevention" (SAPA/SABCnews.com, 7/5). According to Patricia Lambert, special adviser to Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, the government planned to "study the decision" before releasing a statement. The universal provision of nevirapine, which can reduce vertical HIV transmission rates "by up to half," could prevent at least 30,000 infants from contracting HIV from their mothers each year in South Africa (Reuters/Lexington Herald-Leader, 7/5).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.