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Last Updated: Thursday, 24 August 2006, 17:49 GMT 18:49 UK
S Africa to change Aids message
Protest in Cape Town on Friday 18 August
TAC is seeking the health minister's resignation
South Africa's government says it needs to find new strategies for communicating its message on HIV/Aids.

The announcement comes as activists called for a "day of action" to try to get the health minister to resign.

The government has been criticised for recommending natural cures as well as anti-retroviral drugs to Aids patients.

The UN special envoy on Aids accused the government of being "negligent" in its Aids policies at the International Aids Conference in Toronto last week.

"Cabinet decided that work should be done, locally and abroad, to enhance understanding of our comprehensive HIV and Aids programme, to address any doubts about government's commitment to the fight against HIV and Aids," government communications head Themba Maseko told journalists on Thursday.

He said a cabinet meeting on Wednesday had noted the impact of "false allegations" that the government did not have a comprehensive programme to deal with HIV and Aids.

"Nothing could be further from the truth," he said.

"Our responsibility is to find a better way of communicating the strategy so we are not seen to be over-emphasising one aspect", he said, apparently referring to criticism that the government's endorsement of natural remedies was discouraging people from seeking ARV treatment.

Protests

Protests led by the Treatment Action Campaign took place on Thursday in cities around South Africa, where more than 5m people - 12% of the population - are infected.

Police used pepper spray to evict dozens of TAC supporters from a government building in Cape Town, Reuters news agency reports.

Launching its day of action, the TAC called for:

  • the dismissal of Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang;
  • a national meeting to formulate an emergency strategy to tackle the Aids crisis;
  • treatment and care for prisoners with HIV/Aids.

This follows the death in custody of a prisoner identified as "MM", who was among a group of prisoners who won a court case guaranteeing their right to ARV medication, but who TAC says received the drugs too late.

TAC described MM's death as "the tip of an iceberg".

"Today, we face a crisis of HIV infection, illness and death. Above all, we face a crisis of governance," TAC said.

More than 1,000 new infections and more than 800 deaths occur every day, according to TAC.

UN envoy Stephen Lewis said at the International Aids Conference that South Africa promoted a "lunatic fringe" attitude to HIV/Aids, and described the government as "obtuse, dilatory and negligent about rolling out treatment".

The South African display at the conference included lemons and garlic, which Dr Tshabalala-Msimang has advocated for many years as helpful to people with HIV.

After pressure from activists, South Africa changed its policy and started distributing ARVs at government clinics in 2004.

The government currently gives ARVs to more than 100,000 of the approximately 6m South Africans who are HIV-positive.

Critics say that the government's emphasis on natural remedies is leading people to see them as an alternative to ARV medication.


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