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Thursday, 7 February, 2002, 15:54 GMT
Mandela urges 'war' on HIV
Nelson Mandela
Mr Mandela spoke of the need for focussed action
Former South Africa President Nelson Mandela has said his country needs to fight a war against HIV and Aids, in remarks that seem to be tacit criticism of his successor.


The debate... continues to rage in a manner that detracts from what should be our concern in combating this major threat to our future

Nelson Mandela
Mr Mandela said, that if the virus were to be stopped, the issue of mother-to-child transmission had to be dealt with head-on.

Currently, only about 10% of HIV-positive pregnant women in South Africa have access to the medication which can save their babies from infection.

Aids campaign groups in South Africa blame this on President Thabo Mbeki's controversial handling of the crisis - he has queried the link between HIV and Aids, and dubbed anti-retroviral drugs dangerous.

Awards ceremony

Mr Mandela was speaking after presenting the 2002 Nelson Mandela Award for Health and Human Rights to doctors who have pioneered the use of anti-retroviral drugs for HIV-positive pregnant women.

Chart
Source: Medical Research Council
He said the doctors' work "emphasises the centrality of fighting mother-to-child transmission in HIV prevention strategies... (which) we accept to be beyond argument and doubt."

The former leader said the debate over the government's Aids policy was preventing focussed action on fighting the disease.

"The debate about some fundamental issues around HIV continues to rage in a manner that detracts from what should be our concern in combating this major threat to our future," Mr Mandela said.

Pressure

The government has so far resisted mounting pressure to make the drug Nevirapine readily available at hospitals and ante-natal clinics throughout the country.

"But... it is likely very soon we will solve the problem and many people, especially in government, are thinking very seriously about the observations that have been made with regard to the policy of the government," Mr Mandela added.

South African Aids patient
5 million South Africans have Aids

Mr Mandela was sharing the platform with renowned international diplomat, Richard Holbrooke, who echoed the former leader's comments.

"You cannot do prevention without treatment. It is a ridiculous debate. You need both," Mr Holbrooke said.

South Africa has the single biggest HIV-positive population in the world, estimated at five million or 11% of its population.

Cancer free

Mr Mandela also announced that the treatment he received for prostate cancer has worked and he is now completely free of the disease.

"As a result of the treatment, the doctors took a blood sample and said 'your blood is clean of the cancer'," he said.

"It is a pity my wife was not in the country, because had she been here I would have said, 'Darling, let's go and dance'," he added.

In July 2001 Mr Mandela announced that he had prostate cancer and he underwent seven weeks of radiotherapy by way of treatment.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Hilary Andersson
"Staggering numbers of South African's face death"
See also:

07 Feb 02 | Africa
Mandela 'clean' of cancer
19 Dec 01 | Africa
SA to fight Aids drug ruling
01 Jun 01 | Africa
South African Aids icon dies
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