Editorials Respond to Announcement of South African Antiretroviral Drug Program
Three papers today published editorials responding to the South African Cabinet's announcement on Friday calling for the Health Ministry to develop a national antiretroviral treatment plan by Oct. 1. Summaries of these editorials follow:
Minneapolis Star Tribune: Although South Africa has "already suffered mightily" as a result of South African President Thabo Mbeki's "bullheadedness" in refusing to provide antiretroviral drugs to HIV-positive South Africans, the new plan "will minimize the damage," a Star Tribune editorial says. There is "little question" about what changed Mbeki's mind about AIDS -- pressure from the Treatment Action Campaign, an "ingenious pressure group"; an "onslaught of facts" about the spread of HIV; and new economic data showing that providing antiretroviral drugs can save a country money in the long term, the editorial says. While implementing a program "won't be easy," South Africa, which has the "best medical infrastructure on the continent," is capable of succeeding and setting an example that "will have salutary effects for all of Africa -- and for the world," the editorial concludes (Minneapolis Star Tribune, 8/12).
Toronto Globe and Mail: "Whatever the reason" for Mbeki's "about-face" in his attitude toward the use of antiretroviral drugs in treating people with HIV/AIDS, it "is to be applauded," a Globe and Mail editorial says. However, although the announcement "put most of the government's prominent critics in a forgiving mood," those still offering criticism are "properly" placing blame on Mbeki for "failing to act sooner," the editorial says, adding that the epidemic "need not have grown this severe." Mbeki's approach toward AIDS has been an "embarrassing history of endorsing a failed AIDS drug whose main ingredient was dry-cleaning solvent," asserting that HIV does not cause AIDS and claiming that HIV prevalence was being exaggerated, the editorial says (Toronto Globe and Mail, 8/12).
Washington Post: While the "very fact" that Mbeki's government plans to provide antiretroviral drugs "represents a breakthrough" in its approach to the AIDS epidemic, "one statement cannot undo the damage already done," a Post editorial says. With nearly five million people in South Africa already HIV-positive, "[w]hat is needed now is not just acceptance of the disease's existence but an aggressive assault on AIDS," which will require significant changes in the country's "medical and political bureaucracy," the Post says. South Africa's political influence and "sophisticated" medical system and medical schools place the country in a position to lead the continent in the fight against AIDS; however, it has "abdicated this role far too long," the Post concludes (Washington Post, 8/12).