Mandela: Supply nevirapine now, debate later

Former president Nelson Mandela on Sunday proposed a radical challenge to South Africa’s Aids policy, saying people who wanted access to antiretrovirals (ARVs) should be given the medicines.

He said he would like to see antiretrovirals dispensed while the government’s “important research” was being conducted.

“People who want to consult [doctors] and any other person who may think can give them a drug which is going to be useful, which is going to cure their condition, must be free to do so,” Mandela said at a press conference attended by top African National Congress (ANC) officials.

He said this should happen at both state and private hospitals.

“But its important from the view of the government, that as a responsible organisation, that if a drug is given it is safe from the point of view of toxicity,” Mandela said.

“My view is that a perception has been created that we [the government and ANC] don’t care for lives, we don’t care the babies that are being born almost every day by women with HIV. I am concerned that we should clear that impression,” he said.

“To me, the only way of clearing, is to say: ‘We are conducting these scientific researches, when we have concluded our research, we will then publish our findings ... but in the meantime people who want to consult ... must be free to do so,” he said.

Mandela was flanked by ANC secretary general Kgalema Motlanthe, Acting President Jacob Zuma, ANC representative Smuts Ngonyama and Minister in the Presidency Essop Pahad, who also chairs President Thabo Mbeki’s committee on Aids and advises him on related issues.

According to Mandela, Mbeki would have attended the briefing if he had not been obliged to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, currently under way in Australia.

“We agreed last week that we should appear at this meeting together, but it was not possible,” Mandela said.

The former president reiterated his support for the government’s current Aids policy and said he agreed wholeheartedly with their vehement advocacy of continuing research.

Their basic policies were sound, he said, however, they had perhaps not communicated all aspects of their Aids policy properly to the public and the media.

“Overseas research is not enough. Social conditions here are different,” he said, adding that Africa had a large number of poverty-stricken people with weakened immune systems and a lack of fiscal means to look after their general health.

“There is no doubt that poverty brings a fundamental difference to the research conducted overseas and here,” Mandela said.

He said it did not seem logical to rely on overseas research, because a large percentage of African people were struggling under the burden of diseases that wealthy Europeans did not have to contend with such as tuberculosis and malaria.

Mandela reiterated a previous statement, saying the country could not afford debates while Aids sufferers were dying every day.

He said he would like to see antiretrovirals dispensed while the government’s “important research” was being conducted.

“People who want to consult doctors and any other person who may think can give them a drug which is going to be useful, which is going to cure their condition, must be free to do so,” he said.

Mbeki’s government has come under increasing fire from the medical profession, church leaders, the trade unions, opposition parties and the press for not making the drug freely available to all HIV-positive mothers.

It is presently involved in a court case to appeal a ruling by the South African High Court which ordered it in December to give nevirapine to HIV-positive pregnant women across the country, to help protect their unborn babies.

Treatment activists have estimated that the introduction of anti-retrovirals could save the lives of many of the 70 000 babies currently born with HIV annually. - Sapa, AFP

Comments

blog comments powered by Disqus