Under intense pressure to give in to demands to provide nevirapine to all pregnant HIV-positive women in the country, health minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang on Friday left a meeting with her nine provincial MECs with an impenetrably vague media statement which gave the impression government was stalling yet again.
Yet comments from the ministry over the weekend seemed to indicate that the minister is in fact in favour of accelerating the plan. “There are provinces, such as KwaZulu Natal, Gauteng and Western Cape, that are doing much better than others (at providing access to nevirapine) and we need to see how we can help those provinces that are struggling and how we can help them catch up,” said the minister’s spokesman Sibani Mngadi.
It was difficult to give a time frame for the roll out of nevirapine as this would depend on the preparedness of each province, he said.
Mngadi said there were rural sites in KwaZulu Natal, which were allocated to test the nevirapine programme, which were operating very well despite all the challenges they faced, and there was a need to share the lessons of these sites and to create an operational plan for providing nevirapine so that provinces could move forward in a united way.
At Friday’s meeting to report on the progress of the programme to prevent mother-to-child HIV transmissions, KwaZulu Natal and Gauteng reported a readiness to roll out the plan without delay.
Government has come under pressure to accelerate the nevirapine programme with more and more provinces and medical personnel going their own way and providing the drug without the ministry’s consent.
Earlier last week the Health Department was in court over its nevirapine programme. The Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) filed an order to force the department to obey a December court ruling that it speed up the use of nevirapine. Government has to announce its intention to defend itself against the order by the end of this week.