South African AIDS Plan In Question
Posted by pozlife on August 11, 2007
by The Associated Press
Posted: August 10, 2007 – 5:00 pm ET
(Johannesburg, South Africa) The dismissed deputy health minister credited with revamping South Africa’s beleaguered campaign against AIDS expressed fears Friday that her work would now be undone.
Speaking for the first time since she was fired late Wednesday, Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge said she was ousted for attending an AIDS conference in Spain without permission from President Thabo Mbeki and for making comments that contradicted the minister of health.
Mbeki has not given a reason for the dismissal.
Madlala-Routledge is widely credited with with mending fences with AIDS activists and the mainstream medical community to create a new plan to reduce HIV infections. Much of that work was done while the minister of health, who has favored nutrition over drugs in addressing AIDS, was on medical leave for a liver transplant.
Her plan focuses on reducing the number of new HIV infections and aims to extend drug treatment to 80 percent of those with AIDS by 2011. An estimated 1,000 South Africans die each day from AIDS-related illnesses and some 5.4 million are living with HIV.
Madlala-Routledge, who was invited to Spain to address the International Aids Vaccine Initiative, said there was still much “excitement and enthusiasm” for the five-year plan to combat AIDS.
“People are waiting to see if the spirit of unity we had achieved will remain intact. We really do need a united front. I hope that will remain,” she said during the press conference in Cape Town, which was broadcast by a private radio station.
Madlala-Routledge said she had clashed frequently with the minister of health, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, who has been criticized for promoting the use of beetroot, garlic, lemon and African potato to address AIDs-related illnesses. The health minister returned from medical leave in June.
The firing has drawn new attention to rifts within the governing ANC, as well as raised concern about the direction of AIDS policy in one of the countries hardest hit by the epidemic. Mbeki – whose own record fighting AIDS has been criticized by AIDS activist – is a staunch ally of Tshabalala-Msimang, whose husband, Mendi, is a powerful figure in the ruling African National Congress.
Madlala-Routledge’s firing was criticized by AIDS activists, including several who demonstrated in her support during the news conference, waving placards calling for Tshabalala-Msimang to be fired instead. Opposition politicians also expressed outrage.
Patricia De Lille, a veteran of the anti-apartheid struggle who now leads a small opposition party, issued a statement Friday calling Madlala-Routledge “a heroine of our new struggle against HIV/AIDS.”
Dr. Kgosi Letlape, chairman of the South African Medical Association said: “We hope that the synergies created by (Madlala-Routledge’s) efforts and the environment of cooperation will not be lost with her departure from the Department of Health.”
The health department, contacted for comment after Madlala-Routledge’s news conference, issued a statement accusing her of having been inattentive as a minister, questioning her version of events, and saying it was committed to the new AIDS plan
Madlala-Routledge said she differed with the health minister on numerous issues and had almost been fired two years ago when she spoke out on the issue of drugs versus nutrition in the treatment of AIDS.
“Two years ago the minister of health said to me: ‘I will fix you.’ And maybe she has fixed me,” she said. The health department denied the statement was made.
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