South African Government Shifts Response to HIV/AIDS Epidemic, Washington Post Reports
The South African government has shifted its response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic to focus more on expanding access to antiretroviral treatment, HIV testing and prevention, the Washington Post reports. The shift has come about with the appointment of Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka as head of the national AIDS commission, according to the Post. Although President Thabo Mbeki in the past has questioned the link between HIV and AIDS, Mlambo-Ngcuka over the past six weeks has emphasized that the government believes HIV causes AIDS, the Post reports. Mlambo-Ngcuka also has said the government needs to focus on antiretrovirals to treat HIV/AIDS. Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang has been known to promote dietary recommendations, such as beetroot and lemons, to treat the disease, the Post reports (Timberg, Washington Post, 10/27). The government on Thursday endorsed a revised draft of its AIDS control policy. Government spokesperson Themba Maseko said the plan is being finalized (Roelf, Reuters Health, 10/26). Maseko said the government has decided to set goals in the country's five-year plan, scheduled to be released on World AIDS Day on Dec. 1., aimed at widening HIV prevention programs and the availability of antiretrovirals. South Africa's antiretroviral treatment program currently reaches about 200,000 people -- approximately one-quarter of HIV-positive people estimated to need access to the drugs. Activists are calling on the government to provide one million people with access to antiretrovirals, expand HIV testing and reduce the number of new infections. In addition, some activists have said the tone of the dialogue with the government has shifted significantly since Mlambo-Ngcuka's appointment. The Treatment Action Campaign says its members now are discussing long-term targets with the government "after years of hostility and legal battles," according to the Post. TAC leader Zackie Achmat said, "There's clearly a shift taking place." The government's change in stance was spurred by the "growing realization of the severity" of HIV/AIDS in South Africa -- where 5.4 million of the country's 47 million residents are estimated to be HIV-positive -- as well as concerns over the impact that the government's response to the disease is having on the country's reputation, according to the Post (Washington Post, 10/27).
HIV/AIDS Might Hamper Economic Growth
In related news, the HIV/AIDS epidemic in South Africa might undermine the country's gains in productivity and increase health care and training costs, according to economists, USA Today reports. The disease by 2010 is expected to cut annual economic growth by 1.5 percentage points, according to Christo Luus -- chief economist for Absa, the country's largest bank. Although the Bureau for Economic Research in 2005 said HIV/AIDS would reduce economic growth rates by no more than half a point annually, Luus said that previous studies have been less comprehensive (Lynch, USA Today, 10/27).