Govt Coming Round On Aids Drugs: Mandela
13 December 2002
South African Press Association (Johannesburg) SAPA Cape Town - The government was "coming round" on the issue of providing anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs) to people with HIV/Aids, former president Nelson Mandela said on Thursday. His upbeat assessment, during a visit to a pioneering treatment facility in Cape Town, coincided however with activists' claims that the government is stalling on a national ARV agreement. Mandela, wearing a Treatment Action Campaign "HIV-positive" T-shirt, said he was in discussions with President Thabo Mbeki on the issue of ARVs. "Apart from the question of lack of funding, because it is very expensive, they are coming round," he said. "They are going to do something to show the government cares. We are talking to them. I must say that Thabo Mbeki is a person who loves his people." Mandela threw his full weight behind the TAC's campaign for a public sector Aids treatment plan after a meeting earlier this year with TAC head Zackie Achmat, who is refusing to take ARV's until the government begins a pilot project. The government has mandated the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) to come up with an agreement on the provision of free ARV's, but the TAC this week accused government negotiators of "ducking and diving". The TAC had hoped the agreement would be signed by December 6. The treatment facility Mandela visited on Thursday was at the Nolungile Community Health Centre in Khayelitsha's poverty-ridden Site C. The Aids clinic there was started in May last year as a partnership between international humanitarian organisation Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) and the Western Cape government. Nolungile and two other sites in Khayelitsha were the first in South Africa to provide ARVs in public primary health care services. Addressing patients, Aids activists and staff after a tour of the facility, Mandela said he intended to talk to people to see what he could do to assist it financially. His Nelson Mandela Foundation was already working with Achmat and others, "but I'm going to start something separate to make sure you have lots of money". According to MSF, only one in every thousand people who need ARVs in South Africa are getting the drugs, half of them through the Khayelitsha Aids clinics. It says 300 people are currently receiving generic ARVs, imported from Brazil, at the three centres. One of them, 25-year-old Kholiswa Ramncwana, showed Mandela her medication, with tablets marked for each day of the week. "I told him I want all people to have these anti-retrovirals free of charge so they can live a long time," she said afterwards. "A lot of people are dying and these drugs are too expensive ... he (Mandela) said he will try everybody to get this." MSF also announced on Thursday that Mandela would join forces with it to create a new Aids treatment project near Umtata in the Transkei. MSF head in South Africa Dr Eric Goemaere said the time to scale up Aids projects was long overdue and this would only be possible with political action at national and international level. "With the Nelson Mandela Foundation, we hope to create another project in South Africa that prolongs people's lives, and serves as a roadmap for scaling up treatment here and in other countries," he said.