TAC Threatens Legal Action Against S. African Government Over Delay in Rollout of HIV/AIDS Treatment Program
The South African treatment advocacy group Treatment Action Campaign has given the South African government until the end of Wednesday to "speed up" procurement and delivery of antiretroviral drugs to people living with HIV/AIDS in the country or the group will file a lawsuit against the government, the Financial Times reports (Reed, Financial Times, 3/17). TAC on March 10 sent to South African Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang a letter saying that she had seven days to "authorize the immediate procurement" of antiretrovirals, the SAPA/Independent Online reports (SAPA/Independent Online, 3/16). The South African Cabinet in November 2003 approved a plan for a national HIV/AIDS treatment and care program, including the provision of antiretroviral drugs. The program aims to provide antiretroviral drugs to 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. Dr. Nono Simelela, chief director of the Department of Health's HIV/AIDS program, last month said that no one had received treatment yet, and she was unsure when the first patients would receive the drugs (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 3/10).
TAC is calling for the health department to "shortcut time-consuming tender procedures" and purchase the drugs on interim contracts or allow provincial governments to purchase the drugs, according to the Times. TAC attorney Jonathan Berger said, "Many facilities are ready to begin treatment. The problem is they don't have drugs." Berger said that if the government does not respond to the group's demands, TAC on Thursday or Friday will file suit under the country's constitution, which "guarantees" citizens a right to health care, according to the Times (Financial Times, 3/17). TAC on Tuesday said in a statement that Tshabalala-Msimang is "failing to make use of regulations that clearly allow government to purchase an urgent interim supply of antiretrovirals pending the finalization of the tender process" (SAPA/Independent Online, 3/16). TAC said it believes that Tshabalala-Msimang is responsible for the country missing its March target for the rollout of the antiretroviral program, the South African Press Association reports. The "primary reason" for the delay is her "lack of political will," TAC said, adding, "Her justification for delaying treatment is that the tender process for antiretroviral medicines is not complete and therefore these medicines will only be available in the public health system by the end of June" (South African Press Association, 3/16). TAC said that by close of business on Wednesday, Tshabalala-Msimang "must commit, in writing, to meeting the constitutional rights to life, dignity and access to health care services by authorizing the urgent purchase of antiretroviral medicines and distributing them to clinics and hospitals accredited under the plan and ready to proceed" (SAPA/Independent Online, 3/16).