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AIDS fight in S Africa 'on track'

13th September 2007

South Africa's deputy president says the country will succeed in slashing the number of new HIV/AIDS infections in half by 2011.

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Phumzile Mlambo-Ngquka was speaking during a time of controversy for South Africa's health ministry, following the recent sacking of the deputy health minister amid criticism from AIDS activists.

The government also aims to have extended treatment to 80% of those living with HIV by then.

Access to antiretroviral drugs has been slow in coming for South Africa's 5.5 million people with HIV. But Mlambo-Ngquka told the first meeting of the country's new National AIDS Council that the government was on track.

The Council announced a five-year plan to tackle HIV/AIDS in May.

One activist there was indeed some momentum among officials to set up a genuinely effective AIDS programme. Mark Heywood of the AIDS lobby group Treatment Action Campaign, said the government was now giving serious consideration to strategy, treatment protocols, and social change through education about HIV, creating a culture of 'knowing your HIV status'.

The plan was launched while health minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang was recovering from health problems, but was not enough apparently to prevent the sacking last month of deputy health minister Nzizwe Madlala-Routledge, who had a number of disagreements with her boss.

The minister is known as "Dr Beetroot" because of her emphasis on the importance of nutrition in the fight against Aids, while she under-plays the role of anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs).

Madlala-Routledge was dismissed by President Thabo Mbeki after she attended an AIDS conference in Spain, apparently without first getting the president's approval.

At the time, Treatment Action Campaign called the decision to dismiss her a 'dreadful error of judgement' that would be harmful to public health in the country.

The new government plan comes after years of limited access to ARVs. The number of people currently being treated with the drugs stood at 280,000 at the end of March.

However, a futher 800,000 people are thought to need the therapy, but lack access to it.

 

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