published Friday, February 22, 2008
South Africa's finance minister said Wednesday the government will spend more than a quarter of a billion dollars over the next three years to double the number of people receiving AIDS medication.
Trevor Manuel, presenting his ministry's budget, said South Africa would spend an additional $274 million by 2011 to allow an extra half-million people with the AIDS virus to access antiretroviral treatment. That would bring the nation's total of HIV-positive people with access to treatment to about 900,000.
Mark Heywood of the AIDS Law Project welcomed Manuel's new spending plan but estimated that even with the additional money, about 500,000 people in need of treatment in 2011 still would not receive it.
South Africa has 5.4 million people with HIV or AIDS, the most in the world. Every day, nearly 1,000 people there die of AIDS and another 1,000 are infected. The social and economic costs to the country are immeasurable.
Critics blame President Thabo Mbeki and his health minister, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, for the scale of the crisis.
After much delay, Tshabalala-Msimang earlier this month published guidelines for preventing mother-to-child HIV transmission by using a combination of two drugs -- nevirapine and AZT -- in accordance with long-standing World Health Organization recommendations.
But in a sign of the health ministry's ambiguous attitude toward use of medication, a doctor in the hardest-hit province of KwaZulu-Natal was temporarily suspended earlier this month for giving the treatment to pregnant women in his care without awaiting official approval.
The case caused an uproar, with hundreds of health professionals signing a petition demanding that the doctor, Colin Pfaff, be reinstated. Pfaff said Wednesday that hospital authorities told him the charges had been dropped.
''In many ways the work has only just begun,'' wrote Pfaff, who works in an area where nearly 40 percent of pregnant women carry the virus. ''I really hope that with dual therapy now approved ... many more babies' lives may be saved.'' (AP)