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Tuesday, 19 February, 2002, 10:28 GMT
ANC defends its Aids policy
South African Aids patient
70,000 children in South Africa are born with HIV each year
South Africa's governing African National Congress, the ANC, has defended its policy on Aids, dismissing a reported rift on the issue with former President Nelson Mandela as a "communication gap".


Our long term objective is to make it possible for pregnant women throughout Gauteng to access the full package of care

Gauteng's Premier
"The meeting agreed the position taken by government and the ANC to pilot anti-retrovirals is correct," ANC spokesman Smuts Ngonyama said after the party's leadership discussed the issue with Mr Mandela.

But Mr Mandela argues that the drugs ought to be made freely available across the country - not only at test sites on a trial basis only.

He has called for urgent measures to fight Aids epidemic, saying the time had come for action rather than just talk while people were dying.

Mr Mandela's successor, Thabo Mbeki, has come under fierce criticism for questioning the link between Aids and HIV and refusing to make drugs available.

Breaking ranks

Earlier, several South African provinces announced that they would ignore the government policy and start distributing a key anti-retroviral drug, nevirapine.

Chart
Source: Medical Research Council

Authorities in Gauteng, the country's wealthiest province, said the drug would be available in all public hospitals to HIV-infected pregnant women.

"Our long term objective is to make it possible for pregnant women throughout Gauteng to access the full package of care within reasonable distance from their homes," the province's Premier, Mbhazima Shilowa, told the Associated Press news agency.

Several other provinces also said they were expanding access to the drug, which sharply cuts the transmission of HIV from mothers to their newborn babies.

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

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

About 70,000 children in South Africa are born with HIV each year.

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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