19 December 2001

SOUTH AFRICA: Government to appeal judgement on AIDS drugs

Celebrations among activists and South Africans living with HIV/AIDS were cut short on Dec 19 when government announced it would appeal a judgement instructing the state to implement a drug treatment programme for HIV-infected pregnant women and new-born babies.

Health Minister, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, said government would appeal the judgement in the Constitutional Court. ''We consider it critical, in order to create certainty in the public policy domain, to seek the wisdom of the Constitutional Court,'' she said. Civil society had hoped government would accept last week's judgement and not take it on appeal.

At the same time government extended an olive branch to the front of non-governmental organisations (NGOs), trade unions and churches which had assembled to support the court action of the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) last month. Tshabalala-Msimang also said government would meet in January to assess its existing mother to child transmission prevention programme and would consult with civil society on future plans. According to the court’s rule, the government must also put a national programme in place to reduce HIV transmission from mothers to children. Details of the programme need to be lodged by the end of March 2002 - the court deadlines however no longer apply when an appeal is lodged.

It is estimated that as many as 70,000 children, a year, are infected through mother-to-child transmission of HIV. (ips)

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