South African Province To Begin Distributing Antiretroviral Drugs Ahead of National Elections
Five hospitals in the Gauteng province of South Africa on Thursday are expected to start dispensing drugs through the government's antiretroviral drug program, Reuters reports (Quinn, Reuters, 3/30). The South African Cabinet in November 2003 approved a plan for the program, which 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 (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 3/10). The rollout in Gauteng, which includes Johannesburg and is the country's richest province, "shows the government fulfilling [its] pledge" to make the drugs available, government officials said, according to Reuters. However, opposition party leaders have accused the government of distributing the drugs in an effort to win votes ahead of the general election on April 14. "We are entitled to ask: what took you so long? ... [W]hy do it 14 days before an election?" opposition Democratic Alliance leader Tony Leon asked.
Gauteng is the first of the country's nine provinces to begin dispensing drugs under the government's program, Reuters reports. Western Cape started its own program earlier this year, and other provinces are expected to roll out programs in the coming weeks, according to Reuters. Officials expect 50,000 people to be on the drugs by the end of the year and 1.4 million people to be on the drugs by 2009, at a total cost of $700 million. Although AIDS advocates support the rollout in Gauteng, they question whether President Thabo Mbeki's government is truly committed to providing antiretroviral drugs. "All we can do is read the signals, and unfortunately the signals still cast suspicion on the commitment of the (health) minister and the president," Mark Heywood of Treatment Action Campaign said (Reuters, 3/30). TAC earlier this month threatened to file a lawsuit against the government before the elections unless the government began the national treatment program (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 3/10).
Health-e News Series
South Africa's Health-e News on Tuesday published three audio features examining the rollout of the antiretroviral treatment plan in Gauteng province. Brief summaries of the features appear below.
Part 1: Health-e News looks at how health centers in Gauteng are preparing to begin providing antiretroviral drugs to patients (Bodibe , Health-e News, 3/30).
Part 2: Health-e News visits the adult AIDS clinic at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital and talks with Center Director Dr. Alan Karstaerdt (Bodibe , Health-e News, 3/30).
Part 3: Health-e News visits Johannesburg General Hospital to examine its preparations for the drug rollout (Bodibe , Health-e News, 3/30).
The complete segments, as well as transcripts, are available online.
South Africa Survey
The Washington Post on Wednesday published the first of a two-part series based on a comprehensive, nationally representative survey of South Africans conducted by the Post, Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard University. The survey examines South Africans' views about democracy and the challenges facing the country leading up to elections. While unemployment tops the list of the country's problems, crime and HIV/AIDS also are among the leading concerns, according to the survey. In the second article in the series, the Post will examine more closely the issue of HIV/AIDS in South Africa (Morin, Washington Post, 3/31). The complete article, along with other resources, is available online. The survey, titled "South Africans at Ten Years of Democracy," is also available online.