Nevirapine programme finally gets the go-ahead

Provinces are finally expected to get the go-head today (Tuesday, June 5th) to give HIV positive women the drug, nevirapine, to prevent them from passing the virus on to their babies.

Health Minister Dr Manto Tshabalala Msimang is to make this announcement later today in her Budget speech to Parliament, according to sources close to the minister.

The minister unilaterally delayed the implementation of the 18 provincial mother-to-child pilot programmes due to start on 1 April when she decided that they needed Cabinet approval.

However, since then she has failed to present the matter to Cabinet – largely because she has been attending a series of meetings outside the country.

The Western Cape and Gauteng have already started their nevirapine programmes, while KwaZulu-Natal, the Free State and the Northern Cape have been ready to do so since early April.

However, the late registration of nevirapine – which was finally approved by the Medicines Control Council on 18 April – and the minister’s decision to refer the matter to Cabinet has caused confusion in the provinces.

A number of provincial health officials involved in the MTCT programmes said they had been told not to speak to the press, but said they were extremely frustrated by the delay as it was at the cost of babies’ lives.

An estimated 200 HIV positive babies are born in South Africa every day, most of whom die before the age of five. The country’s longest surviving child infected via his mother, Nkosi Johnson, died on Friday.  

Had Johnson’s mother been given a single tablet of nevirapine in labour and he been given a tablet shortly after birth, his chances of getting HIV could have been reduced by about 40%.

Nevirapine’s manufacturer, Boehringer Ingelheim has offered the drug free to all SADC countries for a period of five years.  

Treatment Action Campaign spokesperson Nathan Geffen said it would be “good news” if all pilots could go ahead. However, he pointed out that the18 pilots would only reach about 10% of HIV positive pregnant women, and called on government to roll out the programme as soon as possible.


  • Health-e News

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