South African AIDS activists said on Wednesday they planned to take the government to court again over its HIV strategy and said the sacking of a respected deputy health minister had caused "panic and fear".
The Treatment Action Campaign, South Africa's most influential AIDS lobby group, won a Constitutional Court judgement in 2002 forcing the government to provide anti-AIDS drugs in state hospitals.
The group said it now wanted the high court to force the national health department to let health facilities across South Africa introduce a dual drug therapy regimen in its programmes to prevent transmission of HIV from mothers to children.
So far, only the Western Cape is authorised to provide the therapy. The government generally does not favour drug treatments for AIDS.
"We've sent a letter of demand on mother-to-child transmission," said Zackie Achmat, who founded the group. "Within two weeks we will be back in court on that."
Souring of relations
The step signals a further souring of relations between the government and AIDS activists since President Thabo Mbeki last week fired Deputy Health Minister Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, who was seen as a pivotal figure in the fight against the disease.
South Africa is battling one of the world's biggest HIV caseloads with about one in nine people infected with the virus, and Mbeki's government has come under fire from activists for failing to halt its spread.
Speaking ahead of a student rally in Cape Town calling for the reinstatement of Madlala-Routledge, Achmat criticised Mbeki for firing the deputy minister - who was accused by the president of insubordination.
"It's a deep tragedy and it is creating a sense of panic and fear among us," said Achmat, who is HIV-positive. "The real reason behind the firing is his personal denialism and his irrational, unconstitutional support of the health minister."
Mbeki has stuck by Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, who has angered activists by promoting natural remedies for HIV such as lemon, beetroot and the African potato over antiretroviral drugs, earning her the nickname "Dr Beetroot". – (ReutersHealth)
DA wants better health control