South African President Mbeki Rejects Criticism From Opposition Parties Over AIDS Policies
South African President Thabo Mbeki on Sunday rejected criticism of his government's AIDS policies after the opposition Democratic Alliance party on Saturday vowed to make AIDS a central campaign issue in the country's upcoming elections, Reuters reports. Mbeki's African National Congress party is widely favored to win the general election, which is scheduled for April 14, according to Reuters (Esipisu, Reuters, 2/8). In addition, Mangosuthu Buthelezi, leader of the Inkatha Freedom Party, the country's second-largest opposition party, earlier this month challenged Mbeki to "give more prominence to AIDS," according to the IPS/Mail & Guardian (IPS/Mail & Guardian, 2/6). Mbeki rejected the criticisms, saying, "I challenge anybody to produce any other country of the world that has a comparable (AIDS) program" (Reuters, 2/8). Although the South African Cabinet in November 2003 approved a plan for a national HIV/AIDS treatment program, drug distribution has not yet begun. The program aims to treat 1.2 million people -- or about 25% of the country's HIV-positive population -- by 2008. About 25% of adults in South Africa are HIV-positive, with about five million total HIV cases in the country (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 2/6). Mbeki during a one-hour interview with the South African Broadcasting Corporation promised large budget allocations for the fight against AIDS. SABC reporter John Perlman during the interview asked why in six State of the Nation addresses since 1999, Mbeki has not spoken about AIDS. Mbeki responded that the country's AIDS campaign was led by Deputy President Jacob Zuma. In addition, Mbeki said that there are "many, many things that impact on the health of our people," asking, "Why is it that nobody wants the president to speak about that?" (Terreblanche, Pretoria News/Independent Online, 2/9).
Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang on Monday again talked about the importance of garlic, lemon, onion and olive oil in the diets of HIV-positive people and said that the Ministry of Health was working with the country's Medical Research Council to research traditional medicines as HIV/AIDS treatments, AFP/Independent Online reports (AFP/ Independent Online, 2/9). Tshabalala-Msimang said it was "sad" that media outlets ridiculed her views on the use of the foods to boost the immune system (Nair, SAPA/Mail & Guardian, 2/9). In addition, Tshabalala-Msimang announced that the government on Friday will place notices in major newspapers and in a government bulletin inviting proposals from pharmaceutical companies to provide antiretroviral drugs for the government's national treatment program. Advocates have criticized the government for delays in the program's rollout. However, Tshabalala-Msimang said that "[p]reliminary work" is necessary, including the training of doctors to provide the medicine, according to Reuters/Independent Online. "We found that out of 20,000 doctors, only 2,000 can be relied on to adequately manage the provision of antiretrovirals. So we have a huge capacity problem," she said. Tshabalala-Msimang also said that the government would "definitely" purchase generic antiretrovirals for the program, Reuters/Independent Online reports (Reuters/Independent Online, 2/9).