South Africa says AIDS drugs rollout on course

HIV in AfricaJOHANNESBURG (AFP) - South Africa has sought to deflect criticism that it was dragging its feet on the rollout of AIDS drugs, saying some 60,000 people had been added to the programme in the past year.

The health ministry also defended controversial Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, who has drawn flak for championing beetroot and garlic to combat the disease and for failing to speed up the rollout of anti-retrovirals.

"The minister of health can announce that the number of people initiated on antiretroviral therapy through the Comprehensive Plan on HIV and AIDS has increased to 235,378 by the end of September 2006," spokesman Sibani Mngadi said in a statement.

Mngadi had earlier told AFP that the number of people under state-sponsored ARV treatment stood at more than 175,000 in June last year.

Around 5.5 million of South Afria's population of 47 million are infected with HIV, the second highest rate in the world after India.

Tshabalala-Msimang, dubbed "Doctor Beetroot" by critics, has attracted the ire of the country's main AIDS lobby group, the Treatment Action Campaign, which says she is not paying attention to the role of ARVs in helping fight AIDS.

South African President Thabo Mbeki recently made his deputy Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka head of a ministerial team on HIV/AIDS and deputy health minister Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge has increasingly taken on the task of enunciating government policy.

The health ministry statement on Monday stressed that the minister was doing a good job and underlined that "South Africa has the fastest growing antiretroviral programme in the world.

"Under the leadership of ... Dr Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, the department of health is intensifying its efforts to ensure that everyone progressively realises the right of access to all the elements of the Comprehensive Plan for Management, Care and Treatment of HIV and AIDS."

"The number of health facilities where antiretroviral therapy can be accessed has also increased to 273. The number of service points is being increased," it said.

source - AFP 

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