Independant On-line, Zackie should be more honest - Manto, 30 July 2004

Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang has reiterated her opinion about Nevirapine that caused an uproar at the recent international Aids conference in Bangkok.

The minister said on Thursday that in taking government to court, the Treatment Action Campaign had "forced government to extend the use of the drug beyond limited research sites where the possibility of resistance was being monitored".

Tshabalala-Msimang wrote the statement in response to comments by TAC chief Zackie Achmat at a Centre for Conflict Resolution address this week.

Achmat had accused the minister of making "a laughing stock" of South Africa at the conference, and said that her opinions had left "scientists, who were not confused about Nevirapine, laughing".

'Achmat should be more honest in this matter'
He said that government should choose between the health minister and world support over HIV and Aids. Tshabalala-Msimang did not respond to this comment, and focused instead on Nevirapine.

Two doses of Nevirapine, one for the mother and the other for the child after birth, are used in South Africa to prevent mothers passing on HIV to their babies. The drug halves the chance of HIV transmission. However, some studies have shown that if women are given Nevirapine they develop resistance to the drug. This means they could not take it later, as part of an anti-retroviral cocktail, when they become ill.

However, at the Bangkok conference South African scientists cited research showing that it is not yet known whether the resistance is permanent or not, and that there is evidence that a dose of two other drugs can reduce the chances of Nevirapine resistance.

It has also been pointed out that another drug can be substituted for Nevirapine in the triple cocktail.

"Achmat should be more honest in this matter. His main worry about Nevirapine being discussed openly at this particular conference stems from the wrong decision being taken by the TAC on this matter."

'TAC should reflect objectively'
"TAC should reflect objectively. The organisation should be asking itself whether the constant threat of legal action is always the best route in pursuing its narrow objective," the minister said.

A Health Systems Trust review, released this week, revealed that about 70 percent of pregnant women who tested HIV-positive were given Nevirapine last year.

There were high provincial disparities, with no women getting the drug in Mpumalanga, and all those who needed and wanted it getting it in the Northern Cape. In the Western Cape, the figure was 80 percent. - Health Reporter.

This article was originally published on page 13 of Pretoria News on July 30, 2004




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