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S.Africa to appeal on AIDS ruling

PRETORIA, South Africa -- The South African Government is to appeal against a court decision which would give HIV-positive pregnant women access to cheap medicine.

The country's high court in Pretoria ruled last week that HIV-pregnant women had a constitutional right to a drug found to reduce a newborn's risk of contracting the virus.

But health minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang said in a statement: "We have instructed our legal counsel to appeal the judgment to the Constitutional Court on this matter."

AIDS activists and child health workers were outraged by the decision and argued that President Thabo Mbeki's government has acted too slowly to fight mother-to-child transmission of HIV.

"This will result in further unnecessary infections," AIDS activist group Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) spokesman Nathan Geffen told Reuters news agency on Wednesday.

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Other groups to complain included the South African Council of Churches and the white-led opposition Democratic Alliance (DA).

"It equals a death sentence for thousands of babies that could otherwise be saved. Once again, they are fiddling while Rome burns," DA leader Tony Leon said.

The drug, anti-retro viral drug nevirapine, has been shown to cut mother-to-child infection rates by up to 50 percent.

In its court action TAC successfully argued that the government had a duty to offer nevirapine.

It said it was confident it would win the appeal, saying fundamental rights were being denied under current government AIDS policy.

Between 70,000 and 100,000 babies are born HIV-positive every year in South Africa, which has the highest number of HIV-AIDS victims in the world.

Five million of South Africa's 45 million people, or one in nine, are estimated to be living with HIV.

As many as one in three mothers at some rural antenatal clinics are infected with HIV, according to government figures.

The government argues the cost of the drug is prohibitive and that the court decision could have "far-reaching implications" in defining its constitutional democracy and in shaping the state's responsibility for the delivery of social services.

The government said it would develop a programme centred on preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV-AIDS rather than providing nevirapine.


• Pregnant S Africans win HIV rights
December 14, 2001
• AIDS continues 'devastating' sweep
December 1, 2001
• AIDS drugs battle goes to court
November 26, 2001
• Mandela in AIDS drugs appeal
December 1, 2001
• S.Africa to increase AIDS budget
October 30, 2001

• UNAIDS: The Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS
• World AIDS Day

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