South African President Mbeki Promises To Fight HIV/AIDS With ‘Greater Vigor’ in State of Nation Address
South African President Thabo Mbeki on Friday during his State of the Nation address to open Parliament said that the government's "comprehensive plan" for fighting HIV/AIDS is being implemented with "greater vigor," AFP/Tribune de Geneve reports. "Campaigns to reduce noncommunicable diseases as well as non-natural causes of death will continue through ... increased focus on tuberculosis, AIDS, malaria, cholera and other water-borne diseases and generally increasing the standard of living of the poorest among us," Mbeki said, adding, "With regard to AIDS in particular, the government's comprehensive plan, which is among the best in the world, combining awareness, treatment and home-based care, is being implemented with greater vigor" (AFP/Tribune de Geneve, 2/11). The South African Cabinet in November 2003 approved an antiretroviral drug plan that aims to provide drugs to 1.2 million people -- or about 25% of the country's HIV-positive population -- at low or no cost by 2008 (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 4/2/04). Mbeki's African National Congress party in 2004 promised that 53,000 HIV-positive people would receive antiretroviral treatment under the program by next month (Reuters/Independent Online, 2/11).
Progress on Antiretroviral Drug Rollout
The government by November 2004 had delivered antiretroviral drugs to about 11,000 HIV-positive people through the public health system, and insurers and employers are delivering the drugs to tens of thousands more people in the country. Only about one of every 50 HIV/AIDS patients in the country who need antiretroviral drugs were receiving them, according to researchers who track the epidemic. However, the price of antiretroviral drugs has dropped tenfold in the country since the government announced the plan, and the biggest obstacle to treating patients currently is a lack of facilities and trained staff, Christopher Jack, a physician who oversees an antiretroviral drug program in KwaZulu-Natal province, said (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 11/30/04). Mbeki on Friday "gloss[ed] over widespread criticism" that the rollout of antiretroviral drugs is moving "too slowly," according to the Associated Press. "At least one and a half million South Africans have already died of AIDS, and rates of HIV infection continue to climb," Tony Leon, leader of the opposition Democratic Alliance party, said before Mbeki's speech (Nullis, Associated Press, 2/11).