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SOUTH AFRICA: New health minister to champion AIDS treatment


Photo: Kristy Siegfried/IRIN
The new health minister has singled out HIV/AIDS as a priority
JOHANNESBURG, 2 October 2008 (PlusNews) - South Africa's new health minister, Barbara Hogan, has listed the twin epidemics of HIV and TB as among the most serious health challenges facing the country.

Addressing journalists on Thursday, 2 October, she promised to involve "all sections of our society" in the government's HIV/AIDS response. "I don't want our Ministry to become a bubble that's impervious to the outside world," she said.

Her predecessor, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang had a relationship with civil society groups, scientists and the media that was often acrimonious, but Hogan pledged "to get input from all stakeholders, some of whom have felt marginalised".

Although she dodged questions from reporters about the particulars of Tshabalala-Msimang's controversial legacy on HIV and AIDS, Hogan said she planned to avoid getting involved in "conflictual issues that aren't necessary".

Hogan emphasised that the adoption of a National Strategic Plan on HIV and AIDS in 2007 and the restructuring of the country's National AIDS Council (SANAC), had already marked a major turning point in South Africa's response. "I don't believe we need a fundamental shift in policy," she commented.

Refusing to offer "cheap solutions" or make any "quick-fix promises" regarding how she plans to address the many problems facing South Africa's beleaguered public health system, Hogan instead said she would bring to the table a leadership style that was "decisive without being impulsive".

''I just thought of all those people suffering from HIV and AIDS...To be given the privilege to actually help is a gift''
She told the press briefing that a little over a week ago she was contemplating retiring from a political career that had spanned more than 30 years and devoting more time to her vegetable garden. But when asked by South Africa's newly appointed president, Kgalema Motlanthe, to serve as health minister, she felt obliged to accept.

"I just thought of all those people suffering from HIV and AIDS," she said, becoming tearful. "I think we under-estimate the heroism of people who live with this burden. To be given the privilege to actually help is a gift I'm grateful for."

In response to a question about her lack of a background in health, she said: "I don't think you have to be a health professional to know what the problems are," adding that her experience as chair of the parliamentary Finance Portfolio Committee would serve her well in managing health department budgets, and she intended to draw on the expertise of health professionals, including her deputy minister, Dr Molefi Sefularo.

On the possibility that the government would increase spending on the provision of antiretroviral (ARV) drugs to people living with HIV, she promised to "champion the issue", but said 2009 was likely to be "extremely rocky in terms of international economic developments".

Noting that South Africa has the largest number of people on ARV treatment in the world, Hogan pointed out that "we still have millions of people being afflicted by HIV and AIDS" and that "it is critically important that those who need treatment are able to get it".

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Theme(s): (PLUSNEWS) Care/Treatment - PlusNews, (PLUSNEWS) Governance, (PLUSNEWS) HIV/AIDS (PlusNews)

[ENDS]

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]
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