Although the importance of nutrition is long established, there is a general feeling that Government’s Khomanani stand downplays the importance of antiretrovirals while small baskets filled with lemons, beetroot, african potato and garlic stoke the fires of controversy.
Shortly before the health minister arrived late on Sunday, three bottles of antiretrovirals were hastily added to the exhibition after journalists started making enquiries about whether ARVs were part of South Africa’s response to AIDS.
‘We have engaged in the healthy lifestyle awareness campaign, encouraging people to exercise regularly and to eat nutritious and healthy food particularly vegetables and fruits and this is supported by initiatives to promote community vegetable gardens and food security,’ said Tshabalala-Msimang .
‘Many people are benefiting from the provision of nutritional supplementation within the Comprehensive Plan. You can see it here, it is displayed,’ she added, pointing to the lemons on the shelf.
Emphasizing that there was still no cure for AIDS, Tshabalala-Msimang said Government would continue to make prevention the mainstay of its response. However, questions around the promising research results of new prevention methods such as pre-exposure prophylaxis and male circumcision drew a blank from the minister.
‘I can’t comment on one research done in Orange Farm,’ she said referring to the male circumcision study conducted in South Africa which found that circumsized men were far less at risk of getting HIV than uncircumsized men.
Tshabalala-Msimang added that it was important not to denounce ‘traditional medicine’ and to allow people in the rural areas to make up their own minds on whether they preferred alternative medicine or antiretrovirals.
However, Treatment Action Campaign leader Mark Heywood said it was an abdication of responsibility on the part of the minister: ‘It’s not about denouncing traditional medicine, it’s about giving people the information which could save their lives.’
‘We must not misrepresent that we are succeeding with prevention because the antenatal survey shows the prevalence stabilizing. The mortality statistics show we are not succeeding,’ said Heywood.
Tshabalala-Msimang said her focus this week would be addressing the issues of human resources and health systems.
Several presentations during the week will feature studies and experiences from South Africa.