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S. Africa to Devise AIDS Drug Plan

August 09, 2003|From Times Wire Services

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — The South African government, under pressure to take stronger action against its AIDS pandemic, instructed the Health Ministry on Friday to develop a plan for distributing drugs to fight the disease.

About 1 in 9 South Africans is HIV-positive, but the government has refused to provide AIDS medicine through the public health system, arguing that the drugs are unproven, potentially toxic and too expensive. That stance made the government the target of intense criticism at home and abroad.

The distribution plan is due by the end of September.

The Cabinet cautioned that "if and when" a decision is made to introduce a national drug program, it could take up to nine months for the medication to reach the people who need it.

And it said questions remained about the implementation of a program, including the availability of the drugs, the sustainability of financing and the development of an infrastructure to deliver treatment.

But it said the government now accepted that public anti-retroviral treatment should be part of South Africa's response to AIDS.

Activists praised the decision, saying it finally gave hope to the 4.7 million South Africans suffering from the disease -- more people than in any other country in the world.

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