HIV and AIDS

Nevirapine and drugs for rape survivors all part of a comprehensive healthcare package, says health minister

Providing nevirapine to pregnant women was inevitable and would probably have been rolled out at the end of the year had a Constitutional Court ruling not forced her to announce it sooner, said Health minister Dr Manto Tshabalala-Msimang. In an exclusive interview,  she  talks about the surprise decision to provide anti-Aids drugs to rape survivors and calls on South Africans to tackle the epidemic as partners, not enemies.

Providing nevirapine to pregnant women was inevitable and would probably have been rolled out at the end of the year had a Constitutional Court ruling not forced her to announce it sooner, said Health minister Dr Manto Tshabalala-Msimang.

Speaking exclusively to Health-e News Service after her surprise announcement this week that Cabinet had approved the provision of anti-Aids drugs for rape survivors at public health institutions “as soon as possible”, Tshabalala-Msimang said it was all part of government’€™s commitment to offer a comprehensive health care package to women.

“We have not costed (the provision of drugs to rape survivors) and we are really plunging into the dark here, but I will draw up the guidelines and protocols enabling the rape survivors to make informed choices,” Tshabalala-Msimang said.

She said her record showed that she had been committed to violence against women issues even before she became the deputy minister of justice.

“We still need to work on which drug we are going to give. There are issues with giving mono-therapy, but we will shop around and interact with the private sector who claim that there is no sero-conversion.

“We are obliged to research the matter even though we are providing the drugs,” she said.

Tshabalala-Msimang said Cabinet’€™s decision was not opposing that of the ANC’€™s national executive committee earlier this month.

“They said we must continue to research the matter and that is what we are going to do.”

On the matter of preventing the transmission of HIV from a pregnant mother to her child during birth, Tshabalala-Msimang said this had always been part of her department’€™s strategy plan.

“We had guidelines around managing the delivery, the pregnancy and breastfeeding. We were never in a position to provide the women with AZT, we never had that sort of money.

“When the Uganda study came out, I was very excited. I was on the first plane to Uganda, but that was only one study and we asked South African researchers to research the operational costs for South Africa. We needed to know what this would mean for South Africa.”

Tshabalala-Msimang admitted that she had been cautious, but added that she had always “moved in a direction”.

“At this stage we don’€™t know how many babies sero-convert. We wanted to give ourselves until December. “In all this time we never said that we were not going to give nevirapine, we were being cautious.

“I have got to respect the judgement of the highest court in the land. If the Government doesn’€™t respect the court there will be anarchy.”

Tshabalala-Msimang called on South Africans to  look for partners and not enemies in the fight against HIV/AIDS

“We will never overcome the infection if we are at war with one another. We  don’t have to be at war. This infection is affecting all of us

“I believe  there is hope on the horizon. I am convinced we have turned the corner.  We must now not do anything to detract us so we don’t have any regrets.”  

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Anso Thom