Ailing Manto put on sick leave

South Africa’s ailing Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang has been temporarily replaced by the transport minister while she receives treatment for a lung condition, an official statement said.

Tshabalala-Msimang, often criticised by Aids activists for what they say is South Africa’s slow response to one of the world’s worst HIV/Aids pandemics, entered hospital last week with anaemia and fluid collecting near the lung.

President Thabo Mbeki on Monday appointed Transport Minister Jeff Radebe as acting health minister while Tshabalala-Msimang recuperates, the statement said.

Tshabalala-Msimang, who drew international condemnation at last year’s world Aids conference for promoting garlic and beetroot as treatments for HIV, is in stable condition at the Johannesburg hospital, according to her medical team.

They say they are attempting to ascertain the cause of her anaemia and lung condition.

Tshabalala-Msimang (66) has been a pivotal figure in South Africa’s HIV/Aids crisis since becoming health minister in 1999, engaging in bitter debates with Aids activist groups and at times appearing to question accepted HIV science.

A Russian-educated doctor and long-time member of the ruling African National Congress, Tshabalala-Msimang spent a month in hospital in October being treated for an earlier lung problem and only returned to work in January.

During her absence two other officials — Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka and Deputy Health Minister Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge — took the lead on Aids policy, delighting activists and scientists who had long seen Tshabalala-Msimang as an obstacle.

South Africa has one of the world’s worst HIV/Aids pandemics, with an estimated five million of its 45-million people infected and up to 1 000 Aids-related deaths every day.

‘System in crisis’

In a statement on Tuesday, the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) said it welcomed the president’s effort to address the problem of leadership in the Department of Health following the illness of the minister. The TAC also wished the minister and her family well.

”However,” continued the statement, ”we are concerned about the amount of time Minister Jeff Radebe, who will now have two concurrent portfolios, will be able to dedicate to leading the department when the Department of Health is developing the critical national strategic plan for HIV/Aids and sexually transmitted infections (NSP).

”We point this out because last year, when the minister was absent, an acting minister was appointed. This measure did not resolve the leadership problem in the department, not even in the interim.

”We are concerned that if the challenge of leadership in the Health Department persists, the ambitious targets being set for reducing new infections, providing treatment, care and support to people living with HIV will be undermined.

”The public health system is in crisis and requires dedicated leadership. We therefore urge the President to consider all these issues.”

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