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Global Healthbeat: South Africa AIDS Policy

AIDS activists in South Africa are demanding the dismissal of Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang who President Thabo Mbeki continues to praise as a heroine. Both the South African President and his Health Minister have made international headlines over the past few years for their controversial view on AIDS and their approach to the AIDS crisis in South Africa. Tshabalala-Msimang has been condemned by the national and international community for her distrust of anti-retroviral medications (ARV) and her promotion of food to treat the viral illness. She has recommended the virus be treated with lemon, garlic, olive oil and beetroot.

5.4 million South Africans are infected with the AIDS virus - the highest number in the world. One of my own personal heroes, Nobel laureate Bishop Desmond Tutu, has lamented that the anti-apartheid heroes and heroines era who lost their lives would be shocked at the staggering 900 deaths daily in South Africa due to AIDS. Tutu has condemned "...the bizarre theories held on high..." by the South African government.

Nathan Geffen, policy coordinator for South African's Treatment Action Campaign cites the following failures of the government policies:
  • failure to provide adequate levels of staffing and expertise
  • inadequate provision of medications to HIV-positive mothers to prevent transmission to children
  • delays in providing treatment to people diagnosed with AIDS
The Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAF) released findings of an exhaustive study last month, hoping to put this question to rest. The panel concluded that while nutrition is important for supporting overall health, no food is going to help protect the population from tuberculosis or HIV/AIDS. AIDS accounts for almost half of the deaths in South Africa. Why are some people in the South African government choosing to ignore the evidence - and continue to put lives at risk?

The good news is that there is a Comprehensive Treatment Plan in place for South Africa, and ARV's are center stage - although the number of people taking advantage of the plan ( less than 500,000) is a small percentage of those who actually need it. The Plan is modeled after the WHO Treatment guidelines. Services offered are:
ARV's work by blocking the replication of viruses. They do not cure the disease, but slow its progression. There are three types of ARV's available today:
  • nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTI)'s
  • non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NNRTI)'s
  • protease inhibitors
Universal access to prevention and treatment options is the only way to stem the tide of this devastating disease.

Thank you jimmcintosh for use of photo Orphaned by AIDS.
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