December 14, 2001

SOUTH AFRICA: Government must give HIV treatment to pregnant women

South Africa's government must provide HIV treatment to pregnant women to help prevent transmission of the Aids-causing virus to their unborn children, the South African High Court ruled on Friday, December 14. The landmark decision swept aside the official line that such treatment was impracticable, given the scale of the problem in a country where a government survey last year found 25% of pregnant women to be HIV positive. The government is "obliged to make Nevirapine (an anti-Aids drug) available to pregnant women with HIV who give birth in the public health sector", providing their condition allows it, the court ruled. The case had been brought by a non-governmental organisation, the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), in a bid to force the government to provide retro-viral drugs under the public health care system. "We've made history today (...) The judgment brings hope to potentially tens of thousands of women who have HIV," TAC representative Mark Heywood said after the ruling.

The High Court also ruled that the government must come up, within three months, with a detailed blueprint of how it intends to extend the mother-to-child transmission prevention programme. Health authorities, who currently only provide the drug on an experimental basis to 18 health centres around the country, had argued that they lacked the resources to distribute the anti-Aids drug to all HIV-positive pregnant women. An estimated 70.000 to 100.000 babies are infected with HIV every year. (MAIL&GUARDIAN)

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