Alexa

Activists attend cathedral service to show concern about AIDS policy

Activists attend cathedral service to show concern about AIDS policy

Hundreds of AIDS activists packed the city's cathedral Wednesday to show support for a politician they believe was dismissed as deputy health minister because she spoke out about the AIDS crisis and other problems in the nation's health service.
Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, widely credited with revitalizing the anti-AIDS campaign, was sacked earlier this month, accused of taking a business trip to Spain without President Thabo Mbeki's approval and failing to work as part of a team. Her dismissal has revived concern about the government's commitment to fighting the AIDS epidemic, which kills an estimated 900 South Africans each day.
The firing of Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge "is a shame for South Africa. It's a shame for our beloved country," said Mpumi Mantangana, a nurse who oversees the treatment of about 2,000 AIDS patients in a poor Cape Town suburb.
"We will never allow ourselves to be silenced by people who are denialists," she said, using a term for people who question the link between HIV and AIDS and play down the extent of the crisis. Her remarks were greeted with cheers from the congregation, many of whom wore T-shirts proclaiming "Support Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge. Implement the national HIV/AIDS plan."
The government says it is committed to achieving the targets in the new AIDS plan and has repeatedly insisted that the dismissal of the deputy health minister will not affect this.
It has also sent Madlala-Routledge a bill for nearly 450,000 rands (US$62,000, euro46,000) relating to her trip to Spain, and travel and expense payments dating back to 2001. The Treatment Action Campaign and AIDS Law Project have launched a public fund to support Madlala-Routledge.
Madlala-Routledge was one of the driving forces behind an ambitious new five year plan unveiled earlier this year that aims to halve new infections _ currently topping 1,000 per day _ and extend treatment to 80 percent of those in need. But there is mounting concern that the targets will be missed and the finger of blame is being pointed at Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang who openly mistrusts antiretroviral medicines and instead has promoted the lemons, garlic and potatoes as AIDS treatments. Mbeki, who rejects accusations he is an AIDS denialist, has vigorously supported Tshabalala-Msimang.
Tshabalala-Msimang was sidelined with ill health for about nine months, during which time her deputy joined forces with activists and drew up the new plan and brought rare harmony to South Africa's turbulent health policies. Tshabalala-Msimang's recent return to work has led to a renewed crisis of confidence in the health department, long dogged by accusations of poor management, badly equipped and staffed public hospitals and the escalating TB and AIDS crises.
"Today we once again live in fear that government is in retreat. We fear that denialism about the scale and needs of the HIV crisis is once again ascendant in the health ministry," said an open letter distributed Wednesday from a coalition of church, union and health leaders.
The letter appealed to the South African National AIDS Council to make sure it met targets for the end of this year. They included putting an additional 120,000 adults and 17,000 children on AIDS drugs; offering HIV testing to 70 percent of pregnant women and increasing the provision of medicine to HIV infected pregnant women to prevent them passing on the virus to their unborn child.
"Over 300,000 people in South Africa died of AIDS in 2006 and over a half a million people need AIDS treatment now or they will die within the next two years," the letter said. "Tens of thousands of infants will be infected with HIV this year."
An estimated 5.4 million South Africans are infected with the AIDS virus _ the highest in the world. Only half the current generation of 16 year-olds will live to celebrate their 60th birthday, according to the Medical Research Council.