TAC Criticizes South African Government for Delay in Antiretroviral Drug Distribution
The South African AIDS advocacy group Treatment Action Campaign on Tuesday following a meeting of the group's executive board criticized the government for its delay in providing antiretroviral drugs to people living with HIV/AIDS in the country, Reuters reports (Reuters, 1/27). The South African Cabinet in November 2003 approved a plan for a national HIV/AIDS treatment program, including the distribution of free antiretroviral drugs through service points in every health district within one year and in every local municipality within five years. The program aims to treat 1.2 million people -- or about 25% of the country's HIV-positive population -- by 2008. About 25% of South Africa's economically active individuals are HIV-positive, with about five million total HIV cases in the country (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 12/17/03). TAC said that the program is "inadequate" and "lacks political commitment," according to SABC News. Mark Heywood of TAC said, "We are concerned that the plan originally allocates [nearly $38.4 million] for the end of this financial year and has been cut to [almost $12.8 million]," adding that TAC believes that the $12.8 million has not been disbursed to provincial governments (SABC News, 1/27). "It is unjustifiable, not acceptable, that in almost February 2004 [the provision of antiretroviral drugs] is not happening ... anywhere outside the Western Cape province," Heywood said (Reuters, 1/27). South Africa's Department of Health did not respond to requests for comment, the Cape Times reports.
Although TAC applauded the government for "biting the bullet" in announcing a national antiretroviral program, the group said that the government must move to implement the program (Smetherham, Cape Times, 1/28). Heywood said that by not signing a tender for the provision of antiretroviral drugs, the government was guilty of "neglect," which "should not keep hospitals and clinics from prescribing these antiretrovirals to patients. The provinces' own budgets provide for the acquisition of the medicine." He added, "We cannot sit back and watch people die while doctors are actually ready to prescribe the medicine" (Bremmer, News 24.com, 1/28). However, Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang said that the government has established a task team to investigate the pricing and amount of drugs needed. "We are now placing tenders on antiretrovirals but ... we [can]not just rely on one supplier -- we have got to have a number of suppliers so that we actually always have antiretrovirals in stock," she said (SABC News, 1/28).
Health System 'Decay'
TAC also announced plans to hold a "people's health conference" prior to the upcoming national elections to help create plans for national, provincial and local campaigns to improve health care services, according to the Times (Cape Times, 1/28). The conference tentatively is scheduled for March or April before the general election, for which the government has yet to announce a date (Reuters, 1/27). "We believe that the health system is in a state of serious decay, and is not meeting government's constitutional obligation to provide quality health care to as many people as possible," Heywood said, adding that "the election is an opportunity to question the largest political party about what has been delivered in health care, and in HIV/AIDS particularly" (Cape Times, 1/28).