Independant On-line, New body to keep eye on ARV programme, 14 September 2004

Jo-Anne Smetherham

High-profile organisations including the Institute for Democracy in South Africa (Idasa), the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) and multi-national company Anglo American, have formed a new organisation to monitor the government's Aids drugs programmes.

This forum aims to sound "early warnings" and to communicate successes within the programme to the public.

In its first public statement on Monday, the forum announced that the programme was progressing very slowly for want of political leadership.

"Really, what is needed is for Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang to take a strong stand and make it clear that she wants this programme to be a success," said Nhlanhla Ndlovu of Idasa.

Where there is strong leadership, there has been steady progress in the programmes'
"Where there is strong leadership, as in the Western Cape and Gauteng, there has been steady progress in the programmes."

National government, and some provincial governments, have not responded to the forum's requests for more information.

Fatima Hassan of the Aids Law Project said the forum wanted to work with government to ensure the programmes succeeded, rather than to be antagonistic.

A report released by the forum on Monday said 8 000 people are taking anti-retrovirals in the state sector nationally. This is the same figure announced recently by the health minister.

The government's Aids plan originally aimed to have 53 000 on treatment by the end of the previous financial year, but the deadline has been moved to the end of this financial year.

Government estimated in 2003 that around half a million people need the drugs to stay alive.

The report found that:

In the Western Cape almost 4 000 are taking the drugs, as are around 2 800 people in Gauteng.

In KwaZulu-Natal only nine sites are providing the drugs, although 20 sites have been accredited. The province has 535 people taking the drugs.

Patients in KwaZulu-Natal are being told to wait until August next year for an appointment to have tests or, after getting the tests, to get the drugs.

In Limpopo only 20 people are getting the drugs, all from the same site.

Limpopo and KwaZulu-Natal have got the drugs they ordered. The forum sent letters asking provincial governments why more people are not being treated, but has received no replies.

The problems that have been reported include a lack of health staff.

Poor provinces could not implement the programme without help from national government, said Hassan.

The forum was worried that the health department had not yet awarded the tenders for providing Aids drugs, although this was originally timetabled for the end of July.

Another "major concern" was that provinces spent less on Aids programmes in the first quarter of this year than they did last year, although their government grants had increased.

The forum also includes the Health Systems Trust, the Southern African HIV Clinicians Society, the UCT School of Public Health and Family Medicine and Médicins sans Frontieres.

It is open to other interested civil society bodies.

The Cape Times could not reach Sibani Mngadi, the spokesperson for Tshabalala-Msimang, or Charity Bengu, the health department spokesperson, for comment.

This article was originally published on page 4 of Cape Times on September 14, 2004




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