The Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) has called on delegates at the National Health Summit to address the issue of access to anti-retroviral medicines for people with HIV/AIDS.

At a press conference in Cape Town, TAC chairperson, Zackie Achmat said the benefits of anti-retroviral therapy far outweighed the risks.

“We feel the (National Health Summit) will fail, completely fail, if it does not address the most critical issue facing health in South Africa, the use of anti-retroviral drugs in the public sector itself,” said Achmat.

At the press conference TAC trumpeted the findings of a conference it had hosted in late October, which had brought together leading scientists working in the field of HIV/AIDS along with a range of participants including churches, trade unions and business organisations.

This diverse group of participants had agreed to a set of 15 different provisions that acknowledged that HIV/AIDS was a major health problem in South Africa and that providing anti-retroviral drugs was a necessary way of dealing with the problem that must be facilitated by the government and the private sector.

Achmat said the conference had agreed that the benefits of taking the drugs outweighed the risks of side effects and toxicities. It had also noted that some 20 000 South Africans were already taking antiretroviral drugs through private medical care.

“Extending access to these life-saving medications has become a moral, political, social and economic imperative,”

He said that as the prices of the drugs come down they would become more cost effective, but as this occurs there was also a risk of that doctors who weren’t trained to administer antiretroviral therapy could misprescribe the drugs.

For this reason, Achmat called for “a single set of guidelines to be followed by the public and private sectors.”

He said more programmes to educate people about the drugs were needed so that “treatment literacy” among all South Africans could be improved.
– Health-e News Service