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Criticism of SAF Health Minister Continues


The controversy surrounding South Africa’s health minister continues. There are more calls this week for the resignation of Manto Tshabalala-Msimang. The latest is from Patricia de Lille, head of the Independent Democrats Party. Last week, many of Tshabalala-Msimang’s critics also spoke out at the 16th International AIDS Conference in Toronto.

The minister is being criticized for urging people with HIV/AIDS to eat such things as beetroot, lemons and garlic, while not doing enough to provide treatment.

VOA reporter Delia Robertson is following the story. From Johannesburg, she spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about the health minister’s image at home.

“She is a highly controversial person in South Africa and came in for just as much criticism here, following the comments that were made about her in Toronto. She’s her own worst enemy in many respects because she tends to focus on minor elements of the government’s program on HIV/AIDS and fails to articulate the government’s policy appropriately, I think. She is saying that an important element of responding to the pandemic is good nutrition. And that products such as olive oil and lemon, which are high in anti-oxidants, help the body to remain strong.”

As for the government’s anti-retroviral drug program for people with full-blown AIDS, Robertson says, “Currently, some 116,000 are receiving ARVs at government hospitals and clinics. But the rollout of the drugs has been slower than was promised and was hoped for. And there are a variety of reasons for that. Not least, because often departments or offices involved in ordering drugs have not followed through or are slow. The staff in hospitals isn’t adequately trained or is not a hundred percent sure of what they’re doing. So there are a number of problems in the implementation of this policy. But in fact it is a fairly good policy by which they hope ultimately to have all people who need ARVs on the program and receiving them.” Robertson says it is unlikely Tshabalala-Msimang would resign or that President Mbeki would fire her.