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Last Updated: Friday, 26 March, 2004, 12:34 GMT
SA election row over Aids drugs
Aids campaigner Zackie Achmat (l) shouts at Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang (r)
The health minister (r) has been attacked for her stance on Aids drugs
South Africa's opposition parties have accused the ANC government of using the Aids crisis to gain votes in next month's general election.

A plan to distribute Aids drugs was announced after months of delay on Wednesday, two week before the poll.

Following the announcement, the radical Aids lobby group Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) suspended its plans to sue the government.

South Africa has highest number of HIV positive people in the world, some 5m.

"We are entitled to ask: what took you so long?" said Democratic Party leader Tony Leon.

"We are entitled to ask: why do it 14 days before an election? How many lives could have been saved if you'd listened to the voice of reason?" he asked.

"HIV/Aids is the ANC government's biggest policy failure," said Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi.

Close scrutinty

The government had resisted pressure to distribute anti-retroviral drugs to the HIV positive, saying it would be too expensive and questioning the drugs' effectiveness.

Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang had urged people to eat lots of garlic and beetroot to fight the effects of Aids.

On Wednesday, she announced that interim measures would be used to source the drugs, until a tender process is finalised later this year.

"The minister has agreed to implement what we wanted," said Jonathan Berger of the Aids Law Project - a group which was considering legal action on behalf of TAC, but put its plans on hold when the minister announced the policy change.

"We will be watching very carefully, and if she doesn't follow through on this commitment, we will reassess."

Some 40 pharmaceutical firms have expressed interest in supplying drugs nationwide and had until 2 April to submit tenders, Reuters news agency reported.

President Thabo Mbeki's government has frequently been criticised for the slow pace at which it is handling the pandemic.

TAC says only 2,700 people will receive anti-retroviral drugs by the end of March, far short of the government target of 53,000.

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