Health minister vows to make Aids a top priority

South Africa’s new Health Minister, Barbara Hogan, vowed on Thursday to make Aids a top priority after years of controversy over her predecessor’s unconventional support for beetroot and garlic as treatments.

Hogan replaced Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, who was removed from her post when President Kgalema Motlanthe formed a new Cabinet last month after Thabo Mbeki resigned as head of state.

Although the country faces one of the world’s heaviest HIV caseloads, Aids activists accuse the government of dragging its feet while HIV/Aids ravages millions of South Africans.

Attitudes and awareness about HIV/Aids had improved but “persistent and consistent work and political leadership” was needed to get the message across, Hogan told a news conference.

South Africa has one of the world’s highest incidences of HIV, with an estimated 500 000 people infected each year. About 1 000 die every day from AIDS-related illnesses.

Hogan, who was welcomed by Aids activists after her appointment, said she would push to get antiretroviral (ARV) drugs to as many people as possible.

Saying she would avoid “cheap solutions” and “political games”, Hogan described Aids as one of the most serious health issues facing South Africa.

Tshabalala-Msimang was accused of being in denial about the disease by scientists and grassroots activists.

Mbeki drew sharp criticism shortly after coming to power in 1999 when he questioned accepted Aids science and failed to make life-saving antiretroviral drugs widely available.

Asked whether she was concerned her lack of experience in healthcare could hurt her performance in the job, Hogan said perhaps “I will be more respectful of professional opinion”.—Reuters


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