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“The only thing necessary for these diseases to the triumph is for good people and governments to do nothing.”


Aids Task Team About to Complete Its Work

Veronica Mohapeloa

Cabinet says the team tasked with investigating resource implications for providing anti-AIDS drug to people living with HIV/AIDS in South Africa, is about to complete its work.

Last year in April, government established a joint technical task team comprising the health department and Treasury, to look into these issues, including comprehensive costs and benefits of various AIDS treatment options.

This after government had reaffirmed the position that antiretrovirals (ARVs) could improve the health of people living with HIV/AIDS 'if administered at an appropriate stage in the progression of the condition in accordance with international standards'.

At that time government stated that it would continue to address the barriers to introduce ARV therapy, including high drug prices, weaknesses in health infrastructure and concerns around treatment compliance.

Updating the nation on the implementation of the strategic plan against yesterday, Cabinet said it would consider the findings of the task team and any policy option that could have major costs ought to be thoroughly examined.


The update also included the prevention of HIV transmission from mother-to-child, the expansion of home-based care and progress towards finding a vaccine against HIV/AIDS.

'Government must ensure that its programmes are sustainable. Hence no discussions on such issues, such as those that commenced in Nedlac in September 2002, could be completed without Cabinet having first pronounced on the key issues involved.'

Government has been accused of failure to sign a Nedlac framework agreement on a national AIDS treatment plan.

Cosatu, including the drug lobby group, the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) wants government to set up a national treatment plan to provide universal treatment with antiretrovirals to people living with HIV/AIDS.

Reacting to this accusation, government said there had not been any agreement signed in this regard, adding it would continue to work with Nedlac constituencies to strenghthen the partnership against AIDS.

Government also announced that the team would investigate how cost-effectively it could provide these drugs. It is estimated the drugs could cost government at least R7-billion a year.

Regarding other work that had been done, Cabinet said there had been some other important developments to support the safe and effective use of ARVs in the country.

For instance, the Medicines Control Council (MCC) in partnership with the Medical University of South Africa (Medunsa) had created a system to monitor the safety of antiretrovirals in use in the country.

The system would also record and investigate any serious adverse reactions to drugs of this kind.

'This monitoring system will draw on experience already gained doing similar work in relation to vaccines in partnership with the University of Cape Town.'

Cabinet said there was a growing body of experience in relation ARV therapy (ART) in the country.

This existed in the private sector, in workplace programmes and in a fair number of clinical trials being conducted among public sector patients by various academic institutions.

About the costs of ARVs, Cabinet said the prices remained high and the cost of essential tests to monitor those in therapy was also considerable.

However, the Medicines Control Amendment Act would come into force this year to facilitate the purchase of medicines at cheaper prices.

In addition, the MCC had registered some generic ARVs and multinational companies had granted voluntary licences for South African companies to manufacture several generics.

'This may lead to lower prices in the medium term,' said Cabinet.


South Africa also continued to apply itself, despite resistance from some industrialised countries, to securing an appropriate World Trade Organisation (WTO) agreement to facilitate developing countries' access to essential medicines for major health problems including HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria.

'Such an agreement would give further substance to the statement issued by the WTO in Doha a year ago on the relationship between intellectual property rights and access to medicines in health emergencies.'

Within Africa's recovery plan, Nepad, Cabinet said there was a programme for a number of African countries to urgently work with pharmaceutical companies to manufacture on the continent, affordable drugs for life-threatening diseases, including HIV/AIDS and TB.

'Successful treatment by antiretrovirals requires regular laboratory tests to monitor the condition of the immune system. We will continue to work to reduce the high current costs of tests.'