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S.Africans Welcome AIDS Breakthrough, Regret Delays

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JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – AIDS sufferers and activists warmly welcomed a breakthrough step in South Africa toward anti-retroviral treatment for all, but said delays leading up to it had cost lives.

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – AIDS sufferers and activists warmly welcomed a breakthrough step in South Africa toward anti-retroviral treatment for all, but said delays leading up to it had cost lives.Long criticized for failing to tackle the world’s highest AIDS case-load head-on, President Thabo Mbeki’s government bowed to a growing clamour for drug treatment on Friday, saying it aimed to draw up a plan by the end of September for national distribution of anti-retroviral drugs which can fight AIDS.”It’s wonderful news,” said Sibongile Mafata, coordinator of the only hospice in the sprawling Soweto township near Johannesburg where some 80 to 90 percent of the 400 people being treated by the donation-funded hospice have HIV/AIDS.”I’m really excited about it…we have some who are fairly well, who could still benefit from it (anti-retroviral treatment),” Mafata told Reuters on Saturday.Celebrating National Women’s Day in the capital Pretoria, Marion Cloete of Botshabelo Community Development Trust hailed the news, saying: “We are ecstatic. Especially for poor people…it really means the difference between living and dying.”AIDS activists and the government’s political opposition also welcomed the announcement but remembered those for whom any roll-out of anti-retroviral treatment will come too late in a country where an estimated 4.7 million people have HIV and over half a million people are believed to have died already.The government has cited the high cost, side-effects and lack of healthcare infrastructure to monitor treatment as reasons for delaying access to anti-retrovirals, currently confined to mothers and babies, a few foreign-funded schemes and those who can afford private treatment.TOO LATE FOR MANY“It’s right but it’s a little bit too late,” Mapule Malikene, of Soshanguve, said at the Pretoria women’s rally.The opposition Democratic Alliance agreed.”It is a pity that the government had to wait until an election was just around the corner and a thousand people were dying each day from the effects of HIV and AIDS before it decided on a plan to roll out anti-retrovirals,” party HIV/AIDS spokesman Mike Waters, said in a statement.Mbeki’s African National Congress is tipped for another victory in elections due in the first half of 2004, marking a decade in power since it swept to victory in South Africa’s first democratic polls ending decades of apartheid white rule.The Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), which has spearheaded demands for universal treatment, said it would call off a campaign of civil disobedience.The TAC also said it would reconsider pending litigation, which includes charges of culpable homicide against two cabinet ministers for failing to prevent the deaths of friends and family by refusing universal access to AIDS drugs.”We welcome Cabinet’s bold step today but we also remember the anguish, pain and unnecessary loss of lives over the last four years,” the TAC said in a statement.Medical aid organization Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF, Doctors Without Borders) hailed the government’s turnaround.”This is extremely good news, and we are definitely celebrating today with all people affected by HIV/AIDS in South Africa,” Dr Eric Goemaere, head of MSF’s mission in South Africa, said in a statement.”This…clearly acknowledges the gravity and urgency of the challenge ahead, and symbolically unblocks a situation of denial that has lasted for too long. There is no going back.”(Source: Reuters, Sat August 9, 2003 11:12 AM ET, By Alistair Thomson)

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Dates

Posted On: 11 August, 2003
Modified On: 5 December, 2013


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