Team of HIV/AIDS Specialists To Help South Africa Develop National Antiretroviral Drug Plan
South African government officials this week announced the members of a team of international HIV/AIDS specialists who will help government and public health leaders develop the country's national antiretroviral drug plan, South Africa's Sunday Times reports (Munusamy, Sunday Times, 8/17). The South African government on Aug. 8 called for the Ministry of Health to develop a national program to provide antiretroviral medications to residents with HIV/AIDS. The announcement came after a special meeting of the cabinet to consider a Joint Health and Treasury Task Team cost report on providing HIV/AIDS drugs to the public. According to the cabinet, "Policy and funding commitments made in the last two years leave South Africa well placed to offer a comprehensive package of prevention and care in the health sector" (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 8/15). According to the Sunday Times, the team will be led by Dr. Anthony Mbewu, executive director for research at South Africa's Medical Research Council, and will include some experts from the William J. Clinton Presidential Foundation. Nono Simelela, chief director of the South African Department of Health's HIV/AIDS program, will serve as deputy head of the team, the Times reports. Ira Magaziner, chair of the Clinton Foundation's HIV/AIDS initiative, and other members of the Clinton Foundation initiative this week traveled to South Africa and met with South African Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang to discuss what "technical assistance" the government might need in rolling out the national program, according to the Times. Government spokesperson Joel Netshitenzhe said, "Issues pertaining to implementation are critical in determining the scale, scope and pace of distribution," adding, "We don't want this to be a poor man's treatment by giving out something that is substandard. We are using the best available regim[ens]" (Sunday Times, 8/17).
Social Development Minister Zola Skweyiya and other social development leaders on Friday decided to "fully support" the government's decision to roll out a national antiretroviral drug plan and called for the establishment of a "task team," which would include members of the Department of Social Development, to advise ministers working on the plan, BuaNews/AllAfrica.com reports. Skweyiya said, "Quite obviously the cabinet decision is very significant and will have far reaching implications for the Department [of Social Development], Government and the country as a whole, which need to be studied closely as a matter of urgency." Skweyiya said that the task force should also study the impact of the rollout on the poor, including older people, children and individuals living with disabilities, according to BuaNews/AllAfrica.com (Masango, BuaNews/AllAfrica.com, 8/18).
Tshabalala-Msimang at the Women in Partnership Against AIDS conference in Johannesburg on Sunday said that "rampant" poverty has exacerbated the spread of diseases, including HIV/AIDS, within poor countries, BuaNews/AllAfrica.com reports. She said that HIV/AIDS has "worsened an already unstable situation regarding food and nutrition" in the South African Development Community region, according to BuaNews/AllAfrica.com. "Our reality is that we face the challenge of HIV and AIDS in the midst of other socioeconomic factors [and] problems that affect our region," Tshabalala-Msimang said, adding, "What we are ... seeing in our countries is a complex humanitarian challenge that requires a multi-pronged response" (Masango, BuaNews/AllAfrica.com, 8/18).