Thursday, August 07, 2003

South Africa national AIDS conference

The first ever national AIDS conference ended yesterday. The conference was opened this past Sunday by the health minister, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, who was booed by the participants for her comments .

Demonstrators shouted "Shame on you!" as the minister, blamed by AIDS activists for delaying the introduction of life-prolonging anti-retroviral drugs, said South Africa would set its AIDS policies "without influence from foreign agendas."

"Some say that providing anti-retrovirals is as simple as administering aspirin. Far from the truth," the health minister said. ... "The provision of anti-retroviral drugs in the public health sector is a subject which must be considered soberly, and the government is doing so."

Money is available to the government -- a $165m grant from the Global Fund (an international body set up to combat AIDS) -- to provide anti-retroviral drugs to those who need it. However, the offer is due to expire in three months' time because the health minister refuses to accept it.

But some aren't waiting for the government to act. The Treatment Action Committee, an AIDS NGO, launched a company to provide cheap generic anti-retroviral drugs for US$ 40 a month.