Manto defends Aids policies

South Africa’s health minister on Sunday defended her HIV/Aids policies after a blistering attack by a top United Nations official, but newspapers said she had made the country a laughing stock and demanded her resignation. Manto Tshabalala-Msimang blamed South Africa’s poor media coverage at last week’s global Aids conference in Toronto on the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), whose activists led criticism of her government’s policies.

“I think South Africa did very well,” Tshabalala-Msimang told the South African Broadcasting Corporation radio.

“I think the TAC was just a disgrace, a disgrace not only to the [health] department but a disgrace to the whole country. But I think, as South Africa, we really demonstrated that we are doing pretty well.”

TAC supporters were blamed for attacking South Africa’s stand at the Toronto conference, which included a display of Tshabalala-Msimang’s often-criticised prescription of olive oil, beetroot and garlic as a defence against HIV/Aids.

The conference ended on Friday with a broadside delivered by the UN special envoy on HIV/Aids in Africa, Stephen Lewis, who derided South Africa’s “lunatic” approach to an epidemic which infects an estimated one in nine of its 45-million people.

South African newspapers on Sunday joined the fray, describing the Toronto display as “a salad stand” and demanding President Thabo Mbeki—who is also often accused of mishandling the HIV/Aids crisis—sack his controversial minister.

“Tshabalala-Mismang has become a comic figure who comes across as a clown, if her behaviour in Toronto is anything to go by,” the influential Sunday Times said in an editorial.

“For how long must South Africans suffer the embarassment of a senior Cabinet minister who does not appear to take her work seriously?”

South Africa’s government has frequently been criticised for acting too slowly against HIV/Aids and remaining reluctant to provide sufferers with anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs, the only medication known to slow the progress of the disease.

The government did launch a public ARV programme in 2003 and is now providing the drugs to about 175 000 people.

But activists say the drugs only reach a fraction of the people who need them and accuse Tshabalala-Msimang of creating deadly confusion by continuing to promote her home-grown approach to the disease.

City Press Sunday columnist Khathu Mamaila wrote that Tshabalala-Msimang’s determination to promote natural foods such as beetroot and garlic instead of ARVs had “reduced South Africa to an international joke”.

“Maybe she should be allowed to work for the department of agriculture,” he said. - Reuters

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