GLW: ANC blocks treatemnet for AIDS patients -- By Costa Gazi

Green Left Parramatta glparramatta at SPAMgreenleft.org.au
Tue Jun 6 19:07:06 MDT 2000


The following article appears in the latest
issue of Green Left Weekly (http://www.greenleft.org.au),
Australia's radical newspaper.

*****************************************************

SOUTH AFRICA: ANC blocks treatment for HIV patients

BY COSTA GAZI

[Costa Gazi is head of public health at Cecilia Makewane Hospital
in Mdantsane, East London. He is also Pan Africanist Congress
secretary of public health. In defiance of provincial health
authorities, Gazi has purchased supplies of the anti-HIV drug
nevirapine, using his own salary, to be administered to pregnant
women and rape victims at his clinic beginning June.]

EAST LONDON, Eastern Cape province -- If anyone had any doubt
that the era of settlerism and elitism was not over in South
Africa, President Thabo Mbeki's antics around the issue of
HIV/AIDS should confirm those feelings. It is now obvious that
behind its apparent concern for the poorest of the poor at home
and the exploitation of the poor countries by the rich countries,
our African National Congress government is doing the opposite.

Mbeki's recent visit to the United States and his cosy meetings
with President Bill Clinton have confirmed that South Africa is
the chosen vehicle for the US to control Africa. Our president
loves the idea and is preparing to spread his military power
northwards to serve US interests.

By declaring HIV/AIDS a threat to the security of the US, Clinton
has made it clear that his government will use this issue to
“protect” its vital interests in Africa. Mbeki's idea of an
“African Renaissance” is the perfect cover for operations
anywhere in Africa, willingly executed by South Africa.

My first contact with how the drug AZT (azidothymidine) reduced
mother-to-child transmission (MTCT) of HIV was in October 1998.
At a conference organised by the Epidemiological Society of
Southern Africa, James McIntyre reported on the project his team
was conducting in the Reproductive Health Unit of Chris Hani
Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto. Another paper from his unit
showed that it was cost-effective to give the drug to HIV+
mothers -- even at the prices then prevailing (R400 per short
course). It was cheaper to prevent transmission than to treat
infected babies for opportunistic infections.

This was very exciting. The epidemic was escalating and this
looked like a breakthrough. But the denials and excuses began.
Then minister for health Dr Nkosazana Zuma said the government
could not afford to use AZT. She even suspended trials for a
while on some pretext, but had to back down.

Her own anti-AIDS initiatives had proved disastrous. There was
the Sarafina II debacle, when R14 million was spent on a musical
that was to tour the country spreading the message of the danger
of HIV/AIDS. Zuma's department director-general Dr Olive Shishana
was fired in the aftermath of the scandal. She got a top job with
the World Health Organisation in Geneva and has been silent on
this subject ever since.

Then came the virodene debacle. Three researchers approached Zuma
about an exciting “cure” they had developed for AIDS. They wanted
the Medicines Control Council (MCC) to fast-track approval for
trials for the drug. The MCC turned them down because the drug
was, in the council's words, a “toxic industrial solvent". Even
so, then deputy president Mbeki wholeheartedly backed virodene.

The chairperson of the MCC was replaced but she too was unable to
approve the toxic substance for experimentation. The researchers
fell out with each other when the billions they expected did not
arrive. An inquiry was held and a letter from the researchers
came to light that offered ANC 6% of the profits. The ANC denied
receiving the letter.

With evidence that AZT was cost-effective and its could save
thousands of babies' lives, in 1999 I decided -- with the backing
of the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania -- to sue Zuma (now the
former health minister) for negligence and culpable homicide.

Attack on freedom of speech

Within a week, the Eastern Cape provincial health department
filed 13 disciplinary charges against me, ranging from bringing
the minister into disrepute to revealing information I had
obtained in my professional capacity (that HIV+ women were not
being offered AZT in the public sector).

The magistrate conducting the hearing threw out 12 of the
charges, but found me guilty of bringing the minister into
disrepute. He said it was intolerable that a civil servant should
bring such serious charges against his employer. The magistrate
claimed that a “civil servant is a civil servant 24 hours a day”
and the fact that I spoke as the PAC's secretary of health was
irrelevant. He did not in any way consider the merits of AZT in
preventing MTCT. He reported this to the Eastern Cape health
department director-general, who fined me R1000 -- R500 of which
was suspended if I kept quiet for six months.

I immediately appealed to the Public Service Commission and still
await a date for a hearing. Six months have passed with no word
yet from the commission. The Freedom of Expression Institute took
up my case and a prominent senior counsel, Gilbert Marcus, has
volunteered to defend me. If the verdict is upheld, we intend to
go to the higher courts -- and eventually to the Constitutional
Court. Freedom of speech is enshrined in our constitution.

In the meantime, I appealed to the Human Rights Commission (HRC)
to take the new minister of health Dr Manto Tshabalala-Msimang to
task for continuing to deny AZT (and other anti-retroviral drugs)
to pregnant women who attend public antenatal clinics -- 80% of
patients; the 20% remaining are private and are largely white.
Screening for HIV and AZT are readily available to that section
of the population.

The minister reluctantly replied (after the HRC threatened a
subpoena) to the HRC's question as to how she was protecting the
constitutional right to life of mothers and their babies and to
their right to adequate reproductive care. Her reply was not
satisfactory to the commission and they requested more details.
The arrival of those details is still pending.

Excuses

Both ministers of health pleaded that the government could not
afford the drugs. In other words, they were saying: “If only we
could afford these excellent drugs for our deserving people.”
Neither made a distinction between the short-course single drug
given to an HIV+ women to reduce transmission to children, and
the drug cocktails needed in the long-term by HIV+ individuals to
delay the onset of AIDS.

In October, President Mbeki suddenly claimed that the “toxicity”
of AZT must be investigated. It was a puzzling statement from a
man who had wholeheartedly backed the use of an industrial poison
to treat HIV not long before.

Tshabalala-Msimang took the president's pontificating on board
and announced that AZT would be investigated. The MCC and the
Medical Research Council (MRC) were asked to report. Three
reports from these bodies were presented to the government
shortly afterwards but have not been released. However, leaks
indicate that they all reported that the advantages of using AZT
far outweigh the risks.

There have many other manipulations to mould the facts to fit the
government's theory. The appointment of an unrepresentative
National AIDS Council and then a Presidential International
Scientific Panel have been part of a process of obfuscation and
deceit. Their deliberations will prove nothing that can help
policy-making.

In the meantime, we estimate that in South Africa: 80 babies
every day die from preventable AIDS-related diseases; 1500 people
a day are infected; and there are more than 4 million HIV+ people
-- 10% of the population.

GEAR

The policy is cast in stone by the Mbeki cabinet: starve the
public sector; enhance the private sector; let the weak go to the
wall. It is called GEAR (the Growth, Employment and
Redistribution macroeconomic program) and will subordinate our
country to the global predators. The R30 billion being spent on
arms will make it essential to expand South Africa's writ and the
R40 billion spent every year on servicing the odious apartheid
debt keeps the ANC bosses sweet with the international
financiers.

Mbeki has cynically manipulated the HIV/AIDS issue to serve his
purposes and hidden agendas. It is a prototype for other policy
scenarios to come. ANC loyalists have been silenced or persuaded
to praise the Emperor's New Clothes. That subservience will be
needed when Mbeki starts invading neighbours and the bad
conditions at home must be explained. The ANC must not be blamed
for any setback or deficiency. The centralisation of ANC control
is obvious and ominous.

The ANC-Congress of South African Trade Unions-South African
Communist Party alliance is divided on the issue of
anti-retrovirals, and may be a harbinger of a pending split in
the alliance. Therein lies the hope for the anti-AIDS lobby. The
PAC is one alternative political home, but the genuine
Africanists in the alliance may form a broader united front of
which the PAC would be a part.

A truly liberated Azania would create a people-centred policy and
draw on all the strands of traditional and Western medicine to
make war on AIDS. A war chest of R2 billion must be made
instantly available. Babies, raped women and the infected must be
helped now.







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