South African Health Ministers to Fight TAC Lawsuit Over Nevirapine
South African Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang and all nine provincial health ministers will fight a lawsuit brought by the AIDS activist group Treatment Action Campaign that seeks to force the government to provide nevirapine to pregnant HIV-positive women through the public health system, the U.N. Integrated Regional Information Network/AllAfrica.com reports (U.N. IRIN/AllAfrica.com, 9/13). The lawsuit states that by denying treatment -- which can reduce mother-to-child transmission by up to 50% -- to pregnant women, the government is violating a "constitutional right to life and access to basic health care." TAC also charges that the policy is discriminatory against black women, who represent the "vast majority" of pregnant women accessing the public health system. The lawsuit seeks to "force" the health ministry to provide nevirapine, which manufacturer Boehringer-Ingelheim has offered to donate to the government free-of-charge, through a national treatment plan for HIV-positive pregnant women. In addition to nevirapine, such a program would counsel women not to breastfeed and provide infant formula (Beresford, Johannesburg Mail & Guardian/AllAfrica.com, 9/13).
A Not-So-United Front
Although all nine provincial health ministers have agreed to take part in the defense, the minister for the Western Cape will be represented by separate legal counsel (U.N. IRIN/AllAfrica.com, 9/13). The Western Cape government sent a letter to TAC explaining its plan to expand drug access for HIV-positive pregnant women. Gauteng Province Director of Public Health Dr. Mmipe Modise also sent a similar letter to TAC, but the province government will be represented by the national legal team. Health officials estimate that up to 70,000 HIV-positive infants are born each year in South Africa (Johannesburg Mail & Guardian/AllAfrica.com, 9/13). Eighteen pilot sites around the country are presently offering nevirapine to HIV-positive pregnant women (U.N. IRIN/AllAfrica.com, 9/13).