S. African Government’s ‘Gross Negligence’ Prompted AIDS Group To Sue for Release of Treatment Timetable, TAC Says
The South African AIDS advocacy group Treatment Action Campaign in a Pretoria court on Thursday argued that the South African government's "gross negligence and unconstitutional conduct" led to its failure to release timetables for the rollout of its HIV/AIDS antiretroviral treatment program and said that the government should reimburse the group's legal costs, South Africa's Cape Times reports (Cape Times, 11/5). According to Fatima Hassan, an attorney with the AIDS Law Project of Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg, South Africa, the South African Department of Health was supposed to attach a document -- called "annexure A" -- to its plan that was released in November 2003. The document reportedly detailed important information about the antiretroviral program, including patient treatment targets and timetables, as well as when the government aimed to achieve certain program objectives in specific provinces. Last month, TAC dropped its request for the publication of "annexure A" after health department officials told the group that there was no "officially adopted document" for the rollout of antiretroviral drugs to area hospitals (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 10/27). TAC said it requested the release of the annex 11 times before the government revealed that the document was not adopted by the Cabinet. TAC attorney Mathew Chaskalson said that the ministry's Web site referred to the annex until recently, and TAC would never have filed the request had it known the document did not exist. However, Bashir Vally, attorney for the government, said that the annex clearly was marked "draft" and "confidential" and TAC should have "automatically discovered" that it had "no right" to the information, according to the Times. Vally acknowledged that the Ministry of Health did not respond to TAC's requests for the document but said that a nonresponse usually is interpreted to be a refusal. "Not responding is not unlawful. Discourteousness is not unlawful," he said, adding, "They have no right to costs; each party should pay its own costs." A ruling on the case has not yet been made, according to the Times (Cape Times, 11/5).
TAC Coordinates Protests With Court Case
Thousands of HIV/AIDS advocates joined hundreds of TAC members on the streets of cities across South Africa to demand that a timetable for the rollout of the Comprehensive Care and Treatment for HIV and AIDS program be published, Reuters reports. Sipho Mthathi, TAC deputy chairperson, said to crowds in South Africa that "TAC regrets that yet again we are involved in a fight with the minister of health and her department" (Reuters, 11/4). In an affidavit, TAC Chair Zackie Achmat said, "A reasonable plan will contain time frames and targets to ensure that the quality of life and the right of life of people living with HIV/AIDS are progressively realized" (Cape Times, 11/5). About 11% of South Africa's 45 million people are estimated to be HIV-positive (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 10/27).
A kaisernetwork.org interview with Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane, the Anglican archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa, and archbishop of the Church of the Province of Southern Africa -- in which he discusses the South African government and the faith community's response HIV/AIDS -- is available online.