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Tuesday, 19 February, 2002, 08:56 GMT
Health services defy SA Aids' policy
SA Midwives nursing newly borns
Aids kills 70,000 babies per year in South Africa

By Paul Danahar in Johannesburg

Local health services in South Africa have said that they will start distributing the drug Nevirapine in public hospitals to HIV infected pregnant women.

Three provinces are ready to go it alone in their struggle to fight the disease in defiant of the government's Aids' policy.

South African President Thabo Mbeki
Mr Mbeki's policy frustrates health services
Many are now distributing a key drug that could drastically reduce the number of babies born with HIV, despite the government's claim that the drug may not be suitable for the country.

Health workers say the drug has been shown to be successful in stopping mother-to-child transmission of the virus.

Medical opinion questioned

More than 70,000 babies are born HIV positive every year in South Africa.

One in nine people in the country is estimated to be HIV positive.

But President Thabo Mbeki himself has questioned conventional medical opinion on the drug.

He claims that the South African health services do not have the infrastructure to hand out the medication.

Court appeal

The government lost a lawsuit last year, demanding it begin a nationwide campaign.

However, the governing African National Congress is appealing against the court's ruling.

Aids activists say, in a country where frustration with government policy has become so high, it is not surprising that some provinces, even those controlled by the ANC, are forging their own policies.

The government has played down the significance of the provinces' plans, but it is another unwelcome embarrassment for Mr Mbeki's administration.

See also:

17 Feb 02 | Africa
Mandela urges action on Aids
08 Feb 02 | Africa
Boost for Africa Aids funding
08 Feb 02 | Africa
South Africa awaits Mbeki speech
07 Feb 02 | Africa
Mandela urges 'war' on HIV
19 Dec 01 | Africa
SA to fight Aids drug ruling
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