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Wednesday, 14 March, 2001, 16:55 GMT
Mbeki rejects Aids emergency measures
Aids patient
Over four million people are HIV positive in South Africa
Greg Barrow in Johannesburg

South Africa's President, Thabo Mbeki, has rejected appeals by the opposition and trade unions to declare Aids and the HIV infection a national emergency.

Such a step would allow South Africa to purchase and manufacture cheaper generic versions of anti-Aids or anti-retroviral drugs that are currently priced way beyond the national health budget.

But Mr Mbeki told parliament that declaring a state of emergency was not necessary - the government had already passed legislation for this purpose.

Around 10% of South Africa's population - more than four million people - are estimated to be HIV positive.

Aids is now such a huge threat to the country that there have been growing demands for the government to declare this crisis a national emergency.

Legal action

But President Mbeki ruled out any immediate plans to declare Aids a national emergency.

South African President Thabo Mbeki
Mr Mbeki says the necessary legislation is in place
"Declaring a state of emergency we believe is not necessary. The government issued a programme last year to deal with this particular challenge.

"These measures, the legislation that is now before the courts, the programme of action, indicate precisely this point - that we are committed to deal with these challenges of disease," he said.

The legislation referred to by Mr Mbeki is currently being blocked by international pharmaceutical companies.

They have taken legal action to contest the government's right to dismiss drug patents and produce its own versions of drugs for all diseases, including HIV infection.

If the pharmaceutical companies lose their case against the South African government, it seems that this legislation will form the backbone of South Africa's fight against HIV infection and Aids.

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See also:

15 Mar 01 | Africa
Analysis: Aids drugs and the law
06 Mar 01 | Africa
Delay for Aids drugs case
21 Feb 01 | Business
Glaxo offers cheaper Aids drugs
03 Feb 01 | Americas
Brazil in US Aids drugs row
12 May 00 | Africa
Aids initiative 'no magic cure'
24 Oct 00 | Aids
Aids drugs factfile
28 Nov 00 | Africa
Africa's Aids burden
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