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Sunday, 28 July, 2002, 02:01 GMT 03:01 UK
Mandela backs SA Aids protest
Zackie Achmat (left) and Nelson Mandela
Achmat is protesting against Mbeki's Aids policy

Former South African President Nelson Mandela has said he will meet his successor, Thabo Mbeki, to try to save the life of a prominent Aids campaigner.


[Zackie Achmat] is a role model

Nelson Mandela
Zackie Achmat is refusing to take anti-retroviral drugs in protest at the government's policies towards treating HIV, the virus which causes Aids.

President Mbeki has come under fierce criticism because of his reluctance to make anti-retroviral drugs widely available, despite the fact that South Africa has the highest HIV infected population in the world.

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The meeting between Mr Mandela, who is South Africa's undisputed moral leader, and Mr Achmat, its most famous Aids activist, is of great symbolic importance.

It is also likely to embarrass President Mbeki.

Drug protest

Mr Achmat is HIV positive and his health is steadily deteriorating.

Nevirapine pills
Nevirapine : a retroviral drug Mr Mbeki has opposed endorsing

"If I don't take medication soon it will be a severe problem," he said.

But he refuses to take anti-retroviral drugs until the government makes them available to the general population.

Holding hands with Mr Achmat, Mr Mandela said the Aids campaigner was "a role model and his action is based on a fundamental principle which we all admire".

After the meeting, Mr Mandela, whose attacks on the government's Aids policies are subtle but insistent, said he would meet President Mbeki to discuss Mr Achmat's condition, and by implication, those same government policies.

"I think that I've got a case to take to the president of the country and to acquaint him with what his position is," said Mr Mandela.

Court order

While anti-retroviral drugs are available to South Africans with medical insurance, they are not provided by state hospitals, on which most South Africans rely.

Earlier this year, the government appeared to bow to popular pressure and said it would allow the widespread distribution of an anti-retroviral drug, Nevirapine, which it had argued was unsafe.

Since then, South Africa's highest court has ordered the government to implement this policy.

Nevirapine can stop a pregnant mother from passing on the HIV virus to her child.

But campaigners say the government is still dragging its feet.

They believe that President Mbeki's unconventional views on Aids are hindering the official response to the pandemic.


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28 Nov 01 | Africa
27 Nov 01 | Africa
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