South Africa’s African National Congress To Make HIV/AIDS Its Top Priority
The African National Congress, South Africa's ruling party, on Thursday announced it would make HIV/AIDS its top priority, a move that represents a significant policy shift for a party that has faced criticism for "years of neglect" on the issue, Reuters/Forth Worth Star-Telegram reports. "Given the progression of the AIDS epidemic ... our program of transformation should not only acknowledge this danger, but it must also put the campaign against it at the top of our agenda," the ANC said in a statement. The ANC has faced "mounting international criticism" for its inaction in the fight against AIDS, Reuters/Star-Telegram reports. However, ANC spokesperson and strategist Joel Netshitenzhe said yesterday that his party now understands that AIDS has "ballooned into a huge problem" since the party's last conference in 1997 and they are "ready to deal with it." Almost five million South Africans, or one in nine residents, are estimated to be HIV-positive. Netshitenzhe said that the ANC today will release an "appropriate resolution" on how the party plans to fight HIV/AIDS. According to ANC Secretary-General Kgolema Motlanthe, the plan will likely involve multiple strategies, including providing antiretroviral drugs and helping to eliminate poverty to improve overall health (Esipisu, Reuters/Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 12/19).
TAC Sues Provincial Health Minister
In related news, the Treatment Action Campaign on Tuesday brought suit against Mpumalanga Health Minister Sibongile Manana and South African Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang in an attempt to "widen access" to the antiretroviral drug nevirapine in Mpumalanga province, alleging that Manana failed to comply with a July Constitutional Court order mandating that provinces must increase access to the drug for HIV-positive pregnant women in public clinics and hospitals, Business Day reports. In the suit, filed in Pretoria High Court, TAC alleges that Manana has failed to comply with the Constitutional Court's ruling in three ways: she has not provided full information on nevirapine programs to users of the province's public health care system; she still requires hospitals and clinics to obtain permission from the provincial health department to distribute nevirapine; and her department has failed to expand access to nevirapine beyond the two pilot sites "despite having the resources to do so." TAC attorney Geoff Budlender said, "We hope this will make it clear to other provinces that haven't complied fully that if they don't get their house in order they will face court proceedings." Tshabalala-Msimang is a party to the case because as the national health minister she has a responsibility to ensure that the provinces follow the court order, Budlender said. Jo-Anne Collinge, a spokesperson for Tshabalala-Msimang, said that the health minister was attending the ANC national conference and had not yet seen the suit (Business Day, 12/18).