TAC Welcomes HIV Spending in Budget But Urges Cabinet to Release Operational Treatment Plan


13 November 2003

The Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) welcomes the medium term expenditure framework on HIV/AIDS announced yesterday by the Minister of Finance, Trevor Manuel.  Our preliminary understanding of the budget is that approximately R12 billion will be directed towards HIV/AIDS over the next three years. In a radio interview yesterday evening, the Minister of Finance clarified that  R1.9 billion  will be for  antiretroviral treatment. Our rough calculations indicate that this is sufficient to rollout a comprehensive treatment programme with the potential to meet TAC's target of at least 200,000 people by March 2005. At the price brokered in the recently announced Clinton Foundation deal with four generic companies of just over R80 per month per patient, the money put aside could cover every person in South Africa requiring antiretroviral treatment in the public sector by 2006.

We are concerned however at the disappointing statement released by the Government Communication and Information Services (GCIS) yesterday, which made it clear that the release of the operational treatment plan  has been delayed yet again. Although the GCIS statement promised that Cabinet would finalise matters before the end of next week, this is now the third delay in the release of the report. The report was supposed to be produced by the end of September. On average, at least 600 people die daily of HIV/AIDS in South Africa. Every week's delay results in more  unnecessary lives lost. The failure to make the report public or  to keep civil society informed of its broad contents is disturbing. Without community involvement at every stage of the treatment rollout, its success will be limited.  Yesterday's budget has ensured that we have the financial resources for the treatment rollout, but now we need to see the operational details.

Developing the operational plan was undoubtedly a difficult exercise. There is also a renewed seriousness in Cabinet's response to the HIV epidemic. It is for these reasons that the TAC has been both patient and supportive of government's efforts over the last two months. However, government must  finalise and release the report by no later than the end of next week, as promised in yesterday's statement. This will give government  the opportunity to use World AIDS Day (1 December) to mobilise communities around South Africa to promote counselling, testing and, prevention and  treatment for those who already need it.

The Minister of Finance correctly pointed out in his budget speech "As the costs of drugs come down and our capacity improves, the ability to treat an even larger group of people becomes possible."  Therefore it remains concerning that so far, the only serious efforts to reduce antiretroviral prices  and make generic medicines more accessible have come from civil society and a few committed provincial government officials. The Minister of Trade and Industry has the powers to take steps to obtain voluntary and, ultimately, compulsory licenses for AIDS medicines. Yet, it is not clear that any such efforts have been made. If such efforts have been made, then government's communication on this issue has been poor.

TAC reiterates its commitment to work with government, to use its available resources to mobilise communities to ensure that the rollout of treatment and prevention programmes is a success. But implementation must now begin.

[ENDS]