South Africa’s main AIDS treatment lobby group has dropped a court case against the government demanding it reveal target dates for the rollout of life-prolonging drugs, activists and officials said Sunday.
The Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) said it withdrew the case after health officials informed them last month there was no officially adopted document on the timetable for the rollout of anti-retroviral drugs in public hospitals.But TAC national Treasurer Mark Heywood told Reuters the group would still demand that the government pay its legal costs in a court hearing next month, and would launch a new case later asking for more information on plans to fight the AIDS epidemic.”We were told that the document we were seeking was a draft and had never been officially adopted by the cabinet or by the Department of Health. Our approach was to reply and say we are not interested in a document which has no status,” he said.”But we are consulting with lawyers on a new case. If they don’t have an implementation plan, that is unlawful — and if they have a plan they don’t intend to make public they are also acting unlawfully.”South Africa has the highest number of people living with AIDS or the HIV virus which causes the disease in the world, with an estimated one in nine of the country’s 45 million people infected.But the roll-out of its public drug program has been slow, even after President Thabo Mbeki’s government last year dropped its long-standing opposition to provide life-prolonging drugs to the sick and dying.The government initially said it aimed to treat about 53,000 patients by March this year, but this goal has already been revised twice, with Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Misimang saying it would probably only be reached by next year.In a statement Sunday, the Health Department said it welcomed the decision of the TAC to drop its demand for the draft documents on implementation of anti-retrovirals.Health spokesman Sibani Mngadi told Reuters the minister was consulting with legal representatives to decide how to respond to the TAC’s demand that the government pay its legal costs.He also said that as of the end of September, more than 11,200 people were being treated for AIDS at public hospitals.Heywood said the court case on the issue of paying legal costs to the TAC would be heard on Nov. 4, when the group also planned public demonstrations.”It took them from February to September to tell us the thing we were requesting did not exist. We are arguing that they could have told the country this eight months ago,” he said. (Source: Reuters, Oct 2004)