600 new infections each day
SOUTH AFRICA should brace itself for a rapidly rising Aids mortality rate, scientists warned at a national Aids conference Monday, insisting that antiretroviral drugs were crucial in containing the pandemic. The conference has provided a gloomy insight into a country drowning under high HIV infections - and easy solutions that many claim are being ignored by government.
Professor Quarraisha Abdool Karim of the Centre for the Aids Programme of Research in South Africa, told the four-day symposium in the east coast city of Durban that South Africa should expect a surge in deaths from AIDS. South Africa has one of the highest Aids rates in the world with UNAids estimating 360 000 deaths in 2001 - an average of nearly 1 000 per day. In some parts of South Africa half of all pregnant women are infected with HIV.
An estimated 4.5 million South Africans are infected with HIV - the highest number in any country in the world.
The cost of HIV Babies
While the Medicines Control Council is considering deregistering Nevirapine, which costs R30 to prevent HIV infection in a baby, government is having to pay R600 a month to treat each HIV positive infant. The average HIV positive baby will die before its fourth birthday, and could cost government around R28,000 in medical bills before he or she dies. Democratic Alliance justice spokeswoman Sheila Camerer on Monday urged the government to use the R27-million confiscated from criminals to help pay for medication to prevent HIV in rape survivors. The cost to government to provide medication to prevent HIV would be R200, whereas the lifetime health costs of a rape survivor who becomes HIV positive is more than R600,000.
Protesters March on Conference
Hundreds of supporters marched on the Durban International Convention Centre this week where the South African Aids Conference is being held. The protesters were angry over the government's refusal to implement an anti-retroviral drugs programme which could prolong the lives of Aids patients.
"If the plan is adopted and implemented, anti-retroviral drugs will be made available in public-held institutions. We also demand that working conditions be improved and condom-distributors broadened," a spokesperson said.
At the opening of the four day conference being attended by international experts, South African Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang was jeered as she attempted to defend the government's controversial treatment policies.
The government has come under heavy criticism for failing to roll out a national treatment plan for AIDS sufferers, choosing instead to focus on "nutritious diets" as a way to fight the disease for those infected. Simultaneously, South Africa's Medicines Control Council is threatening to ban the antiretroviral drug nevirapine, expressing doubts over its safety - despite the fact that UN agencies including the World Health Organisation endorse the medicine.