Pre-election focus on AIDS outweighs other health issues

Pre-election focus on AIDS outweighs other health issuesIf party political promises would translate into improved basic health care, the lives of many underprivileged South African would be transformed - and yet when it come to health issues most parties are only interested in beating the HIV/AIDS drum to woo voters. By Anso Thom

If party political promises would translate into improved basic health care, the lives of many underprivileged South African would be transformed – and yet when it come to health issues most parties are only interested in beating the HIV/AIDS drum to woo voters. By Anso Thom

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If party political promises would translate into improved basic health care, the lives of many underprivileged South African would be transformed – and yet when it come to health issues most parties are only interested in beating the HIV/AIDS drum to woo

If party political promises would translate into improved basic health care, the lives of many underprivileged South African would be transformed – and yet when it come to health issues most parties are only interested in beating the HIV/AIDS drum to woo voters.

Attempts to entice politicians to address developmental health issues such as primary health care, access to clean water, the plight of women and children and nutrition, was met with feeble responses from most parties.

But HIV/AIDS drew a barrage of promises and criticism of government from those in the opposition benches.

The provision of anti-retrovirals for HIV positive pregnant women is a common thread running through all election manifestos.

Of all the political parties approached, Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) MP and health spokesperson, Dr Ruth Rabinowitz, had the most comprehensive and informed response.

Commenting on health care in general, Rabinowitz listed the following priorities:

Local government must provide free immunisation;

Advocate partnerships with the private sector and careful monitoring of minimum standards;

The District Health Service at local level must be able to award contracts to private health organizations, non-governmental organisations or health trusts, to manage or provide clinic or hospital services;

A health ombudsperson in each local district must work with an independent body;

Government must pay for beds in private hospitals for state funded patients.

Government hospitals must also be open to private patients;

Government must ensure that it will cover the cost of emergency treatment for all patients up to a specified limit no matter where that patient is treated;

Clinics must be open for a minimum of 10 hours per day;

Distribution of medicines must be privatised from the source along the entire chain until it is delivered to the clinic.

In terms of HIV/AIDS, vigorous education programmes would be targeted at vulnerable groups such as youth, sex workers and truckers.

Free testing had to be widely available as well as group pre-test counseling at schools, universities, colleges, clinics and hospital outpatients.

Rabinowitz said local clinics had to embark on training initiatives for local caregivers who would adopt a certain number of families for whom they provided home based care.

Partnerships had to be forged with pharmaceutical companies to provide medication for rape victims, students with needle stick injuries and anti retrovirals for pregnant mothers.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) has clearly opted to make HIV/AIDS issues central to its local government election campaign.

Party leader Tony Leon has promised to supply anti-retrovirals to pregnant women. How his party will fund this promise in those areas they win, has the making of an interesting post-election issue.

Attempts to get the DA to comment on other health issues were met with more HIV/AIDS policy documents.

Key DA proposals are the following:

Setting up of an HIV/AIDS Commission to take direct responsibility for running a prevention campaign. It will determine a national strategy, establish priorities, channel funds to the private sector and operate as a consultative body;

Improve statistical information on HIV/AIDS by using sentinel testing more widely and introducing incentives for testing;

Boost prevention programmes with the help of NGOs, the media, industry, role models and leadership;

No compromise on providing anti-retroviral drugs to pregnant mothers and rape survivors;

Set up a network of specialised sexually transmitted disease (STD) clinics;

Support efforts to negotiate lower prices for anti-retroviral drugs;

Find community based alternatives to hospitals;

Take care of AIDS orphans ‘€“ identify foster parents, trace remaining family and channel material support.

Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) health secretary Dr Costa Gazi, who is also a state doctor in the Eastern Cape, said they had repeatedly stated that “there must be war declared against this ‘€˜little virus’€™ which is causing massive devastation”.

He said the PAC would continue its campaign to make drugs such as AZT and nevirapine available to HIV positive pregnant women “to prolong their lives and prevent their children from being orphaned prematurely.”

He said the PAC wanted to see all raped women being offered prophylaxis drugs such as AZT.

Gazi said South Africa could afford to make drugs available to all HIV positive people by using parallel imports and compulsory licensing.

But he said drugs were only one important weapon. “Public ‘outing’ will reduce the stigma and we encourage HIV testing of all leaders,” he said.

United Democratic Movement (UDM) president Bantu Holomisa said taxpayers should be made to pay for anti-retrovirals for HIV positive pregnant women.

The UDM would also devise “creative strategies” to halt the decline in healthcare and establish and refurbish clinics, hospitals and day care centres and ensure that they are adequately staffed and equipped, especially in the rural areas.

Holomisa also committed his party to stopping the resurgence of resistant tuberculosis and malaria, but did not elaborate on how this would be achieved.

African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) health spokesperson Cheryllyn Dudley said that her party had managed to provide AZT and other anti-retroviral drugs to some rape survivors in KwaZulu-Natal at one stage. She could not confirm whether this was still the case.

She said the ACDP advocated notification and tracing measures as they viewed AIDS as a health issue before it was a human rights issue.

The ACDP aimed to introduce mobile clinics and travelling vaccination programmes, programmes to promote correct nutrition and hygiene, education on preventing sexually transmitted diseases and HIV (by abstaining from sex outside of marriage) and AIDS care programmes for families.

Despite repeated attempts, no response was received from the African National Congress at the time of going to press.

In its manifesto, the ANC does undertake to forge social partnerships in the fight against HIV/AIDS by accelerating the implementation of the “Together We Can” Campaign, with a focus on prevention, large-scale provision of condoms, development of treatment strategies, research and the creation of a supportive, sound and caring social environment. – Health-e News Service