South Africa Resists Anti-AIDS Plan for Mothers

(WOMENSENEWS)-The South Africa Government announced this week that it would appeal a court order requiring it to provide special drugs to HIV-positive pregnant women that could mean their infants would be healthy, according to combined press accounts.

Last Friday the Pretoria High Court ordered the government to institute a comprehensive program to reduce mother-to-child transmission of HIV and make the AIDS drug nevirapine available to HIV-positive pregnant women.

The nation's health minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang denied that the government was attempting to obstruct the court's mandate.

She was quoted by the South African Press Association as saying the legal maneuver "is aimed at clarifying a constitutional and judicial matter which-if left vague-could throw executive policy making into disarray and create confusion about the principle of the separation of powers, which is a cornerstone of our democracy."

Studies indicate nevirapine may reduce the number of infants infected with HIV by their mothers during labor by up to 50 percent. The government argues the cost of nevirapine is prohibitive. The German-based pharmaceutical company Boehringer Ingelheim has offered free distribution.

The nation's health department legal adviser Debbie Pearlmain said the appeal could take up to a year. During that time the government's current program, which provides nevirapine at 18 sites throughout the country, will continue.

Currently in South Africa, as many as 100,000 infants are HIV positive at birth and 10.5 percent of South Africa's 45 million people are living with HIV, the highest known percentage in the world. A United Nations report in 2000 said that, in South Africa, 54.8 percent of the female adult population is HIV positive. Among pregnant women, estimates are that 19.2 percent are HIV positive.

For more information:

UNAIDS Fact Sheet on Mother-to-Child HIV Transmission:

For fuller press accounts:

South African Press Association:

The Nando Times: