Bush Administration Poses ‘Greatest Threat’ to Public Health, South African Treatment Action Campaign Chair Says
The Bush administration poses the "greatest threat" to public health because of its decisions on how to appropriate funds for the global AIDS initiative, Zackie Achmat, head of the South African AIDS treatment advocacy group Treatment Action Campaign, said in an interview Friday on NPR's "Tavis Smiley Show" (Smiley, "Tavis Smiley Show," NPR, 11/14). The legislation (HR 1298) that established the five-year, $15 billion initiative to fight AIDS in Africa and the Caribbean authorizes $3 billion for the first year, but the administration has requested only $2 billion. President Bush has said that the administration requested less than $3 billion for the first year to allow the program time to "ramp up" (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 9/17). Achmat said he is "enormously encouraged" by the establishment of the global AIDS initiative, but he added that "what has in fact happened is not a single cent has been appropriated." Achmat said, "There is no urgency. When they spoke of an emergency, it certainly wasn't in relation to the 7,000 deaths [a day] in Africa, Asia and Latin America. And that really for us is the greatest tragedy, and we hope that people will address this issue in the United States."
South African Antiretroviral Medication Program
Achmat praised the decision by the South African government to establish a national antiretroviral medication program ("Tavis Smiley Show," NPR, 11/14). 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 force on Sept. 30 presented to the health minister a draft plan of the program, and Cabinet members next week are expected to give final approval of an operational plan (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 11/13). According to Achmat, "all the hard work really starts now," and the "real tasks" are to educate South African residents with HIV/AIDS about how to take medications and about how the public health system functions and to make the antiretroviral medication program "irreversible." Achmat also discussed the significance and impact of the documentary "State of Denial" ("Tavis Smiley Show," NPR, 11/14). PBS' "P.O.V.," a showcase for independent non-fiction films, in September aired the documentary, which profiles six HIV-positive individuals in South Africa who experience social stigma, a lack of access to HIV/AIDS medications and the controversial stance of South African President Thabo Mbeki on the link between HIV and AIDS (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 9/16).
The complete interview is available online in RealPlayer.
A webcast of a speech by Achmat at a forum on HIV/AIDS treatment in South Africa, which was sponsored by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Public Welfare Foundation, is available online.