Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Why, Mr. Mbeki, Why?

Why is Thabo Mbeki's government so insistent on doing the wrong thing when it comes to controlling the spread of AIDS?

BANGKOK, Wednesday, July 14 - The South African government has rejected a common treatment used to reduce the transmission of the AIDS virus by pregnant women to their babies, recommending instead a more complicated drug regimen that many experts say will reach fewer women.

South African officials said Tuesday that the Medicines Control Council, which regulates drugs in South Africa, recommended against giving pregnant, H.I.V.-positive women a single dose of the drug nevirapine just before childbirth, even though the practice has become increasingly common in clinics across Africa. A South African health official defended the decision on Wednesday.

The council ruled that mothers who took the drug would be too likely to develop drug resistance to antiretroviral therapy, and that nevirapine is more effective when used in combination with other drugs.

Instead, the council recommended a 28-week regimen that combines nevirapine and another antiretroviral drug, zidovudine, better known as AZT.

Health experts at the international AIDS conference here condemned the decision as another example of South Africa's reluctance to confront the AIDS epidemic head-on, despite the fact that more than five million of its citizens are infected with H.I.V., more people than in any other country.

"It sends out a totally wrong message," said Joep Lange, co-chairman of the conference and president of the International Aids Society, an organization of clinicians and AIDS workers. While the regimen recommended by South Africa's regulators is theoretically better, he said the risk of creating a generation of infected children outweighs the risk of creating drug resistance.

"We know that in many settings the single dose of nevirapine is the only option," he said. "It is better than nothing."
I just don't understand what Mbeki is thinking. One would almost imagine he had a hatred for his own people, so dogged has he been in choosing the wrong alternative every time a choice has come before him on this issue.