Mpumalanga MEC stands firm on no AZT for rape survivors

Child survivors of rape are being denied access to anti-AIDS drugs following a move by Mpumalanga Health MEC Sibongile Manana to bar rape volunteers from storing or dispensing the drugs on Nelspruit and White River hospital premises.

Liesl Gerntholtz of the Aids Law Project and volunteers of the Greater Nelspruit Rape Intervention Project (Grip) met with Manana yesterday, but the MEC indicated that she could not shift on her decision to disallow AZT and 3TC on the premises of Rob Ferreira and Temba hospitals.

“She has indicated that she is willing to entertain a proposal by Grip on mechanisms on how to deal with the present situation,” Gerntholtz said.

Sources told Health-e, however, that the meeting had been unconstructive with Manana indicating that she was not prepared to shift.

The MEC reportedly made it clear that she would act against any state doctor who prescribed the medication.

According to health workers, child survivors of rape were being admitted overnight to state hospitals which meant they had no access to AZT or 3TC as there were no doctors or dispensaries available after-hours to prescribe or dispense the medication. Most of these children were admitted to the hospital late at night which meant it would be too late should they only access the anti-retrovirals later the following day.

More than 50% of rape survivors in the Lowveld region are younger than 16 years.

The department has also charged Nelspruit officials working with Grip, including the hospital superintendent, hospital secretary, chief matron and social worker, with misconduct.

This follows another investigation of an AIDS non-governmental organisation, the Mpumalanga Support Project Association (MPSA).

Manana has ordered an investigation into government health officials who supported this successful NGO.

Sources within the province say Manana seems intent on severing all ties between her department and NGOs, breaking a bond that has been established over a number of years and which led to the province’s Lydenburg district being declared the best HIV/AIDS district in the country this year.

For the past four years, Mpumalanga has been at the forefront of piloting and implementing innovative projects designed to distribute condoms, treat sexually transmitted infections and care for those infected and affected by the HI-virus in a highly focused and highly targeted manner.

But all these gains are in danger of being nullified should Manana decide also to close the MPSA operations.

The MEC would only confirm that the “Departmental Labour Relations section” was investigating the role of health department officials in the MPSA.

The association’€™s major role is to provide an efficient, economical, central funding and reporting mechanism and to channel funds from foreign donors to the poorest communities in the province. No funds were received from the Mpumalanga health department.

The MPSA currently supports 50 community-based peer education projects (960 peer educators), 28 community home-based and orphan care projects as well as three youth out-of-school peer education projects.

Sources told Health-e that the MEC had withdrawn all departmental staff from prevention and care activities through the MPSA even though these activities had been prioritised in the National AIDS Plan.

Manana’s investigation was apparently trying to establish who gave permission for the MPSA’€™s establishment two years ago.

Dr David McCoy of the Health Systems Trust, a health monitoring and research NGO, said the association’€™s work had been outstanding.

“It is an inspiration and a beacon of hope that offers this country, and Mpumalanga in particular, an opportunity to hold its head up high and say, ‘€˜we can organise ourselves and beat this epidemic’€™.

“What appears to be happening is a re-centralisation and the dismantling of the very ingredients that contributed to MPSA’s success.

The health workers, NGOs and volunteers now feel demoralised and demotivated. It is a sad situation; it will be tragic if all this good is irreversibly damaged,” McCoy said. – Health-e News Service.


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