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Statement issued by Archbishop of Cape Town, Njongonkulu Ndungane, regarding the government's stance

Posted on: August 6, 2003 12:52 PM
Related Categories: Southern Africa

[ACNS source: Church of the Province of Southern Africa] When a globally honoured AIDS researcher like Professor James McIntyre of the Baragwanath Peri Natal Clinic says 100,000 women in labour have been treated with Nevirapine in the past two years with no adverse effects, and when the World Health Organisation estimates that this medicine halves mother-to-child transmission then I am heartened by the simple arithmetic that tells at least 50,000 babies have been saved. So how can one even contemplate doubling AIDS related national infant mortality - an estimated 100 infants a day - as government seems hell bent on de-registering a treatment that even our Constitutional Court acknowledges is the best resource we have at the moment.  How can our government, born out of a struggle for justice, strive to ignore the directive of its own court?

How can our government not acknowledge that Nevirapine is recommended in dozens of countries in the world, and our own as a safe chronic medication?

Interestingly, the Medical Control Council is not questioning the drug's safety for lifelong use as part of triple therapy in pregnant women and infected children. To quote a health journalist, 'all that is being questioned is its use during labour'.

How can those who govern us bear to face the reality of human suffering that accompanies all those who have died and those who are condemned to certain death because there was and is no treatment for them - the very treatment that the poor are receiving in other developing countries?

When our Government refuses a donation of Nevirapine and places at risk Global Fund monies for our most infected region, KwaZulu Natal, it must answer to the nation.

When our Minister of Health continues to question the efficacy of anti-retrovirals and talks blithely about waiting for the right structures to be in place she, and those who support her, are equating the AIDS virus with manageable diseases. If only our health department could act with the same admirable sense of urgency that was applied to the meningitis scare in Gauteng .  The minister is quite right when she says the AIDS pandemic is the responsibility of every government department and I believe it is time her fellow ministers accepted responsibility for what has become a world disgrace as serious as apartheid.

The fact that 600 people are dying daily is a serious indictment on our elected government and leaves the impression that it doesn't care whether we live or die.