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South African AIDS Conference Ends With Renewed Calls for Government to Provide HIV Drugs - 2003-08-06

A conference on AIDS in South Africa has ended with renewed demands from activists and scientists for the government to provide AIDS drugs at state-run clinics and hospitals as soon as possible. The drugs issue has dominated the conference of scientists, government officials and activist groups.

Throughout the conference, speaker after speaker urged the government to act with speed to offer the drugs that can save the lives of some of the 600 South Africans who die from AIDS every day.

Dr. Kosi Letlape, the head of the South African Medical Association, told the conference the government needs to acknowledge that it should have provided the drugs much sooner, and announce that it will immediately do so.

But the national director of health told VOA that it is essential to have a sound plan in place before beginning such programs. He said the government needs to know there will be sufficient money to fund the program for more than a year or two. Also, he said patients need to know at the start how and when the drugs will become available in various parts of the country, so that those who have to wait will know when their chance will come.

Another controversial issue is whether the independent Medicines Control Council will permanently register the drug nevirapine for prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

The drug was provisionally registered two years ago but the original trial was improperly documented and the manufacturer was requested to provide additional evidence. Scientists and practitioners say the drug is safe and effective, and they and the Medicines Control Council have now agreed to work together to find a solution to the problem.

The South African national AIDS conference brought together scientists, government officials and representatives of activist organizations to promote information sharing and greater cooperation in fighting the disease. Delegates say progress has been made but much work lies ahead.