South African Government Must Acknowledge AIDS-Related Mortality Figures, Editorial Says
The South African government, which has been "painfully slow" in implementing a plan to provide antiretroviral drugs at no cost to the country's HIV-positive residents, "needs to stop being defensive and show backbone and courage to acknowledge and seriously tackle the HIV/AIDS crisis of its people," a Lancet editorial says. The "[s]ocial stigma" associated with HIV/AIDS in South Africa -- which is "tactically perpetuated" by the government's "reluctance to bring the crisis out in the open and face it head on" -- prevents many citizens from speaking about the "causes of illness and deaths of loved ones" and "leads doctors to record uncontroversial diagnoses on death certificates," according to the editorial (Lancet, 2/12). According to a report published in the Jan. 28 issue of the journal AIDS, South Africa's Medical Research Council estimates that about 112,000 people died of AIDS-related causes from 2000 to 2001, which is almost three times as many as the country's Department of Home Affairs estimated died of AIDS-related causes during the same period. The report also says that during that year about 74% of deaths among children under age five were from AIDS-related illnesses, compared with data cited by the government claiming 25% of deaths among young children are AIDS-related. Many deaths were recorded as pneumonia or tuberculosis, partly so the family could claim life insurance or funeral policies and also to protect families from the social stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS. A mortality report by Statistics South Africa that will provide details on the causes of death in the country between 1997 and 2003 is expected to be released this month (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 2/3). The motto with which President Thabo Mbeki will introduce the 2005 parliamentary session -- "Parliament: the voice of the people; realizing a better life for all" -- will be "nothing more than empty words" unless the government makes HIV/AIDS its "highest and most urgent priority," the editorial concludes (Lancet, 2/12).This is part of the Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.