SOUTH AFRICA: TAC calls for stronger political leadership
JOHANNESBURG, 11 February (PLUSNEWS) - South Africa's Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) expressed its concern on Wednesday over the delay in the government's rollout of antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) — the core of the "Operational Plan for Comprehensive HIV and AIDS Care" released by the cabinet in November last year.
Estimates suggest that over 500,000 people are currently in need of ARVs in South Africa. But only 1,500 people, all in the Western Cape Province, are on treatment at the moment.
What makes the Western Cape different from other provinces, according to TAC leader Zachie Achmat, is political leadership.
"The province has really good leadership ... they simply understand the need for a comprehensive approach that includes ARVs. And that is what they are doing ... they're not just saying it," Achmat told PlusNews.
He pointed to the example of the provincial government's success in bringing down the monthly cost of ARVs from between R900 and R1,800 (US $128 and $256) to R380 ($54). "This was accomplished by simply putting someone in place to do the job," said Achmat. "This has to be done in every province."
The treasury reported in August last year that 500,000 people needed access to ARVs, and estimated that an additional 388,000 people would develop AIDS in the financial year 2003-04.
"It is this recognition by government that leads to our criticism of the lack of urgency and the lack of political commitment behind this rollout," said TAC spokesperson Mark Heywood.
"As we sit here today, two months after the cabinet published this plan; five months after the treasury and the Health Department published their report with the sanction of the plan; eighteen months after the Health Department and the treasury set up a task team to look at the costs of ARV treatments, only 1,500 people are on treatment in the South African public sector, and those are exclusively in the Western Cape," noted Heywood.
TAC said it would consider legal action if no further progress was made by Human Rights Day, on 21 March.
"We are putting together an expert team to monitor the rollout and if, without good reason, no progress has been made, TAC will consider an urgent legal application to compel the government to comply to the plan that it itself spent 15 months developing, and has not seriously begun," warned Heywood.
TAC said it was also concerned by President Thabo Mbeki's fleeting reference to AIDS in both his state of the nation address and a recent live interview with the national broadcaster. "We are seriously concerned about the lack of concern, compassion and commitment illustrated by both the health minister and, more importantly, the president," Heywood said.