Public Pressure Forcing Change in South Africa’s HIV/AIDS Policies
The "reluctant" South African government is "gradually being pressured into action" to fight HIV/AIDS by advocacy groups, the courts, media outlets, unions and businesses, in a battle that "could shape South Africa's future as dramatically as apartheid's demise," the Washington Post reports. The South African government, led by President Thabo Mbeki, who previously questioned the link between HIV and AIDS and suggested that antiretroviral drugs were "part of a genocidal campaign to poison blacks," has "softened" its stance toward HIV/AIDS and "there are signs that it could soften more," the Post reports. Mbeki's government recently announced that it plans to triple the national AIDS budget, and it has pledged to work out a deal with the province of KwaZulu-Natal to allow it to accept a $75 million U.N. grant to distribute antiretroviral drugs. The government is also expected to announce a new AIDS strategy that includes a pilot program for distributing antiretroviral drugs and has already begun providing the drugs to rape survivors in public hospitals. However, the "overwhelming consensus" in South Africa, which has more HIV-positive people than any other country, is that the "changes reveal less about Mbeki" than they do about the country's "vibrant democracy," according to the Post. The media has "banged away" at Mbeki's health policies, and former President Nelson Mandela has "adopted" the fight against HIV/AIDS as "his final crusade." While the country's approach to AIDS is "much less aggressive than those of less economically advanced" African nations, public pressure has increased antiretroviral drug distribution, and "AIDS-ravaged" companies, such as DeBeers and DaimlerChrysler, have begun programs to distribute the drugs to HIV-positive employees. Michael Sinclair of the Kaiser Family Foundation, said, "It's obviously happening slower than we'd like, but civil society is forcing the government to act" (Grunwald, Washington Post, 1/28).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.