KHOPOTSO: It is edited by some of the country’s foremost legal minds on HIV/AIDS issues ‘ Adila Hassim, Mark Heywood and Jonathan Berger of the AIDS Law Project. Health & Democracy is a 14 chapter guide on the link between access to health, the law and human rights in post-apartheid South Africa. The foreword to the publication has been written by the Deputy Minister of Health, Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, who also gave the keynote address at the recent launch of the publication.
NOZIZWE MADLALA-ROUTLEDGE: One of the exciting things about this book is that it is, to the best of my knowledge, the first time that all of our health law and policy have been described in one place. But the important thing for me is to say that the recognition of human rights in our law begs another important set of questions. And these are: Are we doing enough to educate our communities about their right to health? Are we doing enough to educate health care workers and managers about their duties under these laws? Are we doing enough to allocate our limited resources correctly to respond to the growing burden of disease? And finally, how can we assist poor communities so that they have access to legal services when they are forced to resort to the law, either to protect rights or to demand them when we fail to meet our obligations as a government?
KHOPOTSO: The book makes an attempt to address all of those questions. Turning to the issue of the government’s policy that delayed access to antiretrovirals, the Deputy Minister had this to say:
NOZIZWE MADLALA-ROUTLEDGE: Let us be reminded that while those who have the means can buy life-saving health care and medicines, the poor often die prematurely of treatable and curable diseases. While our decision to focus our limited resources on prevention in the first 10 years of our democracy’¦ was the correct one, the disease burden in our country requires that we begin to reallocate resources’¦ while, of course, ensuring that we continue to campaign for prevention.
KHOPOTSO: In November 2003, the government announced its approval of South Africa’s Operational Plan for Comprehensive HIV and AIDS Care, Management and Treatment to provide free antiretrovirals. This followed years of bitter wrangling between activist group, the Treatment Action Campaign and the government, which involved street protests and the courts. The TAC reasoned that one of the ways that the rollout programme could benefit the health system would be to reduce the number of people who flood the health system as a result of HIV-related opportunistic infections. Former Constitutional Court judge, Mr Justice Johann Kriegler, remembers a past that is still fresh in much of society’s minds.
JUDGE JOHANN KRIEGLER: Of course, AIDS ‘ the whole spectre of this pestilence stalking the land – is so frightening that one would like to pull a blanket over your head and pretend it didn’t exist. And that’s understandable. But one can never succumb to that, and responsible citizenry requires of us that we give those who work in this field and those who suffer in this field every assistance that society can muster. We have come a long way over the last decade in this endeavour.
KHOPOTSO: Kriegler described the book as a pioneering piece of literature that will empower South Africans with information on their right to access to health care as guaranteed in Section 27 of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
JUDGE JOHANN KRIEGLER: We don’t have a great deal of material in this field ‘ not only in this country, but elsewhere. And because we have such a rich Constitution with third generation rights and the entrenchment of the right to access to health care, it’s particularly important that practitioners, NGOs, judicial officers, academics, men and women in the street have a proper appreciation of what our Constitution actually promises and what our society must strive to make a reality in respect of a particular category of our society that is so compelling that some have succumbed to the temptation to deny its existence.
KHOPOTSO: One of the aims of the book is to empower those using the public health sector to hold the government and the health system accountable for not delivering on its health mandate. Easily written, with clear explanations, this is a sort of publication that should be translated into languages that every citizen can understand.