S. African Doctors, AIDS Advocates Hope Antiretroviral Drugs Reach Patients Soon Through National Treatment Program
Physicians and AIDS advocates in South Africa have expressed hope that the first antiretroviral drugs to be distributed through the nation's treatment program will reach HIV/AIDS patients by November or January "at the latest," the Chicago Tribune reports (Goering, Chicago Tribune, 10/6). 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. A special task team on Sept. 30 presented to the health minister a draft plan of the program (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 10/2). According to the Tribune, the government will likely begin the program's first stage only in large urban and regional rural hospitals that have highly trained staff. Many physicians in the country "remain relatively untrained" in prescribing and using antiretrovirals because of South Africa's "long reluctance" to begin an AIDS treatment program, the Tribune reports. "We're hanging on by the skin of our teeth for this rollout," Dr. Allison Russell, a physician in the AIDS clinic at Soweto's Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, which is expected to be one of 22 initial treatment sites, said (Chicago Tribune, 10/6).
NPR's "Morning Edition" on Tuesday also reported about how South African AIDS advocates are "waiting to find out if the government keeps its promise" to begin a national AIDS treatment plan. The segment includes comments from Nathan Geffen, national manager for the South Africa-based treatment advocacy organization Treatment Action Campaign, and Dr. Eric Goemare, head of the Medecins Sans Frontieres pilot antiretroviral project in Khayelitsha, South Africa (Beaubien, "Morning Edition," NPR, 10/7). The full segment is available online in RealPlayer.
TAC Receives Mandela Human Rights Award
Treatment Action Campaign on Monday recieved the Nelson Mandela Award for Health and Human Rights for its leadership in improving access to HIV/AIDS treatment for people in South Africa and abroad, South Africa's Star reports (Altenroxel, Star, 10/7). The award, which was established by the Kaiser Family Foundation in 1993 at the behest of former South African President Nelson Mandela, is given each year in recognition of leadership in improving the health of disadvantaged populations. This is the first time the award has gone to an organization (Kaiser Family Foundation release, 10/6). On Monday in Johannesburg, Graca Machel, Mandela's wife, who presented the award to TAC Chair Zackie Achmat, said that Mandela had personally approved the selection of the group for the award. "The TAC's struggle grows out of the best traditions of the anti-apartheid movement," Machel said (Reuters, 10/6).
Since its founding in 1998, TAC has mobilized support for expanded treatment for HIV-positive people by organizing public protests, presentations in Parliament, workshops and seminars and by working with religious and labor groups. In addition, TAC brought a successful constitutional court action against the South African government, forcing it to make the antiretroviral drug nevirapine available through the public health sector in order to prevent mother-to-child HIV transmission. The court victory helped influence the government's decision to develop a treatment and prevention plan that will include the provision of antiretroviral drugs in the public sector, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation release (Kaiser Family Foundation release, 10/6). Achmat said, "We accept this award on behalf of all of our members who have died prematurely" (Reuters, 10/6). As part of the award, two TAC members will travel to the United States to work on projects aimed at improving the health of South Africans. In addition, TAC will receive a $10,000 contribution to further fund its efforts. "The Treatment Action Campaign's contribution to the struggle against HIV/AIDS in South Africa has been heroic and has contributed in a major way to global awareness of disparities in HIV treatment," Drew Altman, president and CEO of the Kaiser Family Foundation, said, adding, "Advocacy efforts like these are essential in any democracy" (Kaiser Family Foundation release, 10/6).