August 27, 2004

Minister concedes lags in Aids-drug drive

Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang conceded that her department was not likely to meet government's target of getting AIDS drugs to 53.000 patients by next March. The United Nations estimates that 5,3 million South Africans were infected with HIV by the end of last year, giving SA the world's highest case load. Free AIDS drugs are a key tenet of government's comprehensive plan for tackling the epidemic. The plan, launched in November last year, aimed to have 53.000 patients on treatment by end March, but the target was extended by a year by President Thabo Mbeki during his state of the nation address in February.

According to Tshabalala-Msimang, 8.000 people were now receiving free antiretroviral medicines at public hospitals and clinics. The department has accredited 85 sites that can provide the drugs 75% of its 113-site goal. She played down the slow pace of the drug roll-out, saying people with HIV might want to stick to nutritional regimens or traditional medicines instead. "We are not sure whether 53.000 people want to go on antiretrovirals. It's an estimate. All we can say is we will open the sites, and people who want to access (the drugs) will do so," she said. Tshabalala-Msimang said the take-up of antiretroviral medicines had been hindered by stigma and a lack of skilled health-care workers. "Very few health professionals understand HIV/AIDS so the issue of training (has been) critical," she said. She also expressed concern that HIV/AIDS patients were not sticking to their pill-taking schedules, as missing increased the risk of drug resistance. (Business Day, Johannesburg)


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