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Last Updated: Thursday, 9 June, 2005, 10:54 GMT 11:54 UK
Aids drug battle at SA conference
TAC campaigners with anti-retroviral drugs at protest
Campaigners want government to endorse the use of Aids drugs
South Africa's long-running debate over Aids drugs continued to dominate a national conference this week.

The health minister said the drugs were not the only way to fight Aids, and that eating habits were also important.

Activists and other speakers hit back, one delegate describing the minister's idea as a "no brainer".

The South African government began providing Aids drugs in clinics last year, after previously denying links between HIV and Aids.

Some five million South Africans are HIV positive - more than any other nationality in the world.

We want unambiguous messages, and that has to come from... the minister of health
Fatima Hassan, Aids Law Project
"Your response cannot be single-minded: 'It's ARVs'," Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang said on Tuesday.

"There are other things you must be able to do: nutrition, traditional medicine," the minister added.

Other delegates at the 4,000-strong conference came to the defence of ARV drugs after experts said that a new generation of drugs would be cheaper and easier to use.

"People's lives are being saved by the use of ARVs," said Fatima Hassan of the Aids law project at the University of Witwatersrand, criticising a "deliberate campaign against evidence-based medicine."


"What it's doing is confusing communities, in particular confusing communities that are poor," Ms Hassan said.

TAC head Zackie Achmat (l) shouts at Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang (r)
Minister Tshabalala-Msimang (r) says ARVs are not the only solution
"We want unambiguous messages, and that has to come from the highest level," she added.

"That has to come from the minister of health."

Mark Nelson, director of HIV services at the Imperial College School of Medicine in the UK said that tackling Aids without the use of ARVs was "a no-brainer".

"You have to give people the belief that these drugs work because they do work," he said.

'War' on Aids

Earlier in the conference, South African military officials said they were fighting a "human war" against the "formidable enemy" of HIV/Aids.

Some 23% of South Africa's troops are infected with HIV - a similar rate to the adult population at large.

The army is taking part in a US-funded programme to see how Aids is affecting its combat-readiness.

This includes giving anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs) to some 1,000 soldiers.

"Some of them are now running around in the mountains," Col Xolani Currie said, referring to HIV-positive troops now serving in border control units.

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