Follow Up

Published: Sunday 30 September 2001

AIDS activists are suing the South African government for its failure to distribute an anti-HIV drugs that could save the lives of about 35,000 newborn babies each year. The lawsuit will be filed by the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), which played a leading role earlier this year in forcing multinational pharmaceutical companies to abandon their legal action against South Africa over intellectual property rights (see 'Patents vs Patients', Down To Earth, Vol 10, No 5, July 31, 2001).

The group accuses the state of violating the constitution, breach of promise and de facto racism over its continued refusal to make crucial drugs universally available to HIV-positive mothers. The lawsuit filed in the Pretoria high court seeks to force the government to provide the drug Nevirapine in all public hospitals. Nevirapine is estimated to cut the rate of HIV infection in babies by at least half when given to the mother just before the birth, and to the child shortly after it is born. But it is available only to about 10 per cent of the women who need it. The suit states that the government's failure for not providing Nevirapine to HIV-positive mothers is a breach of constitutional guarantees of access to basic healthcare and the right to life.

Meanwhile, Zimbabwe has also failed to utilise funds of its National Aids Trust. The funds were collected by imposing a three per cent tax on personnel and corporate income. But over a year after the government began collecting the tax, only US $4 million of the US $29 million collected so far has been spent. Furthermore, the Zimbabwean government has even dissolved the agency responsible for disbursing the money, saying that it did not have the legal authority to manage the funds. This move was criticised by some experts. They alleged that the board was dissolved because its chairperson was a supporter of the leading opposition party.

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