Independant On-line, TAC fears radical cuts in 2004 Aids budget, 28 January 2004

By Jo-Anne Smetherham

Among the "alarming" signs that the government is not committed to providing anti-retrovirals as soon as possible, are reports that the budget for this year's scheduled rollout has been reduced from R270-million to R90-million.

This was one of the warnings from the Treatment Action Campaign at a press briefing on Tuesday to outline concerns about the government's progress in providing the Aids drugs and the TAC's campaign for a better health service.

The department of health did not respond to a request for comment.

The government's 253-page report on anti-retrovirals stated that the Aids drugs would be provided to 530 000 people by the end of this financial year.

'We're very concerned about the totally unjust delay in drug procurement'
" Unjustifiably", no province other than the Western Cape had yet set up the drug programmes, said TAC national treasurer Mark Heywood.

The R90-million that was still earmarked for anti-retrovirals had not yet been allocated to the provinces, Heywood said. Health department sources, he said, had provided the TAC with this information about the budget.

Preparation for providing the Aids drugs was taking place at a number of sites, including some in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal, but this was uneven and unco-ordinated across provinces and risked the creation of new inequalities in the health system.

Health department chief director of pharmacy services Humphrey Zokufa was quoted in the Financial Times of London as saying that there was "no hurry" to procure the drugs for distribution.

"We're very concerned about the totally unjust delay in drug procurement," said Heywood.

'We believe that the health system is in a state of serious decay'
The press briefing followed a two-day meeting of the TAC's national executive committee. It also met with representatives of the South African Medical Association and labour federations Cosatu and Fedusa.

The TAC will hold a "people's health conference" before the elections to assess the state of the health service from the viewpoints of ordinary people and to draw up plans for national, provincial and local campaigns for a better health service.

Political parties would be invited to give their points of view at this gathering, which had been "very deliberately" planned to take place before the elections so that voters could take its findings into account, said Heywood.

"We believe that the health system is in a state of serious decay, and is not meeting government's constitutional obligation to provide quality healthcare to as many people as possible," he said.

"We believe that the election is an opportunity to question the largest political party about what has been delivered in health care, and in HIV and Aids particularly."

The TAC would educate people about their rights and mobilise them to demand healthcare though litigation if necessary, he said.

"We are not convinced that the epidemic is levelling off or reaching a plateau. We are not convinced that rates of infection are decreasing among young people," Heywood added.

"We commend the government for biting the bullet over anti-retroviral programmes. Now we call on the government to implement them. Once again, we offer our fullest support, free of charge," Heywood said. - Health Writer

This article was originally published on page 5 of The Cape Times on January 28, 2004




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