Alexa

South Africa says half million on AIDS drugs, but official warns of resistance risk

South Africa says half million on AIDS drugs, but official warns of resistance risk

An estimated half a million South Africans have received anti-AIDS medication, a top health official said Thursday, but he warned of an associated upsurge in resistance problems.
The director-general of the health department, Thami Mseleku, said the number of people receiving antiretroviral drugs in public hospitals and clinics had reached an estimated 300,000 since the government started distributing the drugs about three years ago, and he said about 200,000 were likely receiving the medication through the private sector.
However he stressed that the government had no real idea of the exact numbers, about side-effects and about how many had discontinued treatment because its patient record system was "not up to scratch."
South Africa has an estimated 5.4 million people infected with the AIDS virus _ the highest in the world. An estimated 900 South Africans die each day of the disease and more than 1,000 are newly infected each day. The Treatment Action Campaign, an AIDS activist group, says its impossible to know how many are on ARVs because of lack of monitoring and that the figures should be treated with caution.
The government has long been criticized for doing too little too late to tackle the epidemic. Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang has been singled out for criticism for her publicly expressed mistrust of antiretroviral medicines and her dogged promotion of garlic and lemons as remedies. AIDS activists say Mseleku shares the blame.
At a press conference Thursday, Mseleku said the increase in number of people receiving anti-AIDS drugs had also led to "a number of challenges."
"If we talk in general, we are facing the possibility of a major resistance phase in the country, which we need to respond to," he said.
"People who started treatment a long time ago, they are now faced with a situation where they are likely to be developing resistance," he said, adding that this would necessitate new drugs and treatment combinations which were far more expensive.
"Then you have those people who actually stop and go ... and that also creates problems of resistance."
The Treatment Action Campaign accuses the health department of doing too little to develop an efficient monitoring system to track people who start on treatment and see if there are side-effects and resistance problems. The health department says it is hampered by lack of staff and infrastructure sophisticated enough to cope with the demands of dispensing the medication.
South Africa's AIDS policy is under renewed international spotlight following the dismissal earlier this month as deputy health minister of Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge.
President Thabo Mbeki dismissed Madlala-Routledge for taking an unauthorized trip to an AIDS vaccine conference in Spain and accused her of not working as part of a team.
Madlala-Routledge had mended bridges with activists long spurned by health minister Tshabala-Msimang and her dismissal was greeted with outrage.
Tshabalala-Msimang has been the subject of allegations about her behavior and health by the Sunday Times newspaper that were partly based on her medical records. The minister and a Cape Town clinic sued the Sunday Times for the return of the records.
In a judgment Thursday, the Johannesburg High Court said that the records must be returned "forthwith" to the clinic and that copies of the minister's medical records on journalists' laptops and computers must be deleted.
But Judge Mahomed Jajbhay said there was no order against future comments being made by the Sunday Times, as that would amount to censorship.
Health department spokesman Sibani Mngadi said that the minister, in the Republic of Congo at an African health minister's meeting was "delighted."
"We believe the government was vindicated," Mngadi said in a statement.
There was no immediate reaction from the Sunday Times, which also was ordered to pay court costs.
The South African National Editors Forum said the order to return the medical records "was to be expected."
But it welcomed the judge's acceptance of the Sunday Times defense that it acted in the public interest, saying that this upheld an important journalistic principle in support of press freedom.


Updated : 2021-04-18 22:09 GMT+08:00