Catholic Bishops of Southern Africa Pledge To Provide AIDS Drugs, Criticize South African Government’s Slow Response
Southern Africa's Catholic bishops on Wednesday pledged to provide antiretroviral drugs to South Africa's HIV-positive population starting next week, Reuters reports. The Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference, which represents bishops from South Africa, Swaziland and Botswana, said that next week it will begin providing free antiretrovirals at five church-run projects in South Africa and hopes to expand the program to 19 projects when funding is secured. The bishops also called on the South African government to rollout its national antiretroviral drug program and criticized the government for its slow response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, according to Reuters (Reuters, 2/4). Although the South African Cabinet in November 2003 approved a plan for a national HIV/AIDS treatment program, drug distribution has not yet begun. The program aims to treat 1.2 million people -- or about 25% of the country's HIV-positive population -- by 2008. About 25% of South Africa's economically active individuals are HIV-positive, with about five million total HIV cases in the country (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 2/4). South African officials have responded to criticism about the program's slow start, saying that they are "battling capacity constraints," according to Reuters. However, Bishop Kevin Dowling said, "We don't believe that the rollout [of drugs] should be stopped or blocked or put on the back burner because the capacity that civil society already has in place is underutilized." The bishops said that the Catholic Church is the largest provider of care for AIDS orphans and home-care for individuals living with HIV/AIDS in South Africa, according to Reuters (Reuters, 2/4).This is part of the Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.