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Zuma buries ghost of Mbeki's Aids denial in South Africa
"we start to turn the tide" on the battle against HIV and Aids. Wants action now on HIV/Aids
Oct 29, 2009 10:11 PM | By NKULULEKO NCANA


Almost 10 years to the day since Thabo Mbeki set the HIV/Aids denialist tone for his government by telling the National Council of Provinces that it would be "irresponsible" for the state to roll out antiretroviral drugs, President Jacob Zuma told the same house of his administration's determination to lead the fight against the pandemic.
In sharp contrast to Mbeki's first speech to the council, soon after taking over from Nelson Mandela as head of state, Zuma was candid about the catastrophic impact of HIV/Aids and warned "we are not winning this battle", despite having the world's biggest antiretroviral programme.
"We must come to terms with this reality. If we do not respond with urgency and resolve, we may well find our vision of a thriving nation slipping from our grasp," Zuma told the council.
His choice of venue, and the date, for making his major HIV/Aids policy speech was intended to distance his administration from Mbeki's denialist policy.
On October 28 1999, Mbeki told the National Council of Provinces that it would be "irresponsible" of the government to supply antiretroviral treatment to those who needed it because the drugs were alleged to be poisonous.
Mbeki said: "There also exists a large volume of scientific literature alleging that, among other things, the toxicity of this drug is such that it is a danger to health. These are matters of great concern to the government as it would be irresponsible for us not to heed the dire warnings [of] medical researchers".
He said he had instructed his minister of health, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang - who was to later drive his Aids denialist policies - "to go into all these matters so that we ourselves, including our country's medical authorities, are certain of where the truth lies".
Though Mbeki, throughout his presidency, remained sceptical of official HIV/Aids statistics, Zuma quoted the Medical Research Council, Statistics SA and other bodies to show that the situation was worsening.
"They [the statistics] show that nearly six of 10 deaths in our country in 2006 were deaths of people younger than 50. More and more people are dying young, threatening even to outnumber in proportional terms those who died in old age," he said.
If this continued, Zuma warned, there is "a real danger that the number of deaths will soon overtake the number of births".
Last year, more than 1,2-million births were registered, he said.
During the same period, deaths rose from 573,000 in 2007 to 756,000.
These figures, Zuma said, did not "fully reveal the human toll of the disease".
"Wherever you go across the country, you hear people lament the apparent frequency with which they have to bury family members and friends," he said.
Zuma said "extraordinary measures" were needed to stop the progress of the disease.
"We will need to mobilise all South Africans to take responsibility for their health and well-being, and that of their partners, their families and their communities."
Minister of Health Aaron Motsoaledi earlier this week said his department was "fighting" to meet the "monumental challenges" of cutting HIV infection rates by half.
In his medium-term Budget policy statement, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan said that, by the end of March, more than 900,000 people would be receiving antiretroviral treatment.
The figure is now a little under 300,000.
The Treatment Action Campaign, which fought for government provision of antiretroviral drugs and was at loggerheads with Mbeki and Tshabalala-Msimang because of their denialist views, hailed Zuma's speech as a "breath of fresh air".
"This is a sign of political will in this administration to fight the epidemic as well as TB," said TAC general secretary Vuyiseka Dubula
"We have lacked this level of leadership on Aids and TB from the government for 15 years."
Zuma called on MPs to "resolve now" that on World Aids Day, in Decem
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