- AIDS treatment campaigners in South Africa are expressing grave concern at a government decision to reduce the treatment budget for the rest of the financial year by an alleged two-thirds. The reports caused "outrage and frustration" and were seen as a severe setback from recent gains.
AIDS activists from the advocacy group, AIDS Therapeutic Treatment Now, South Africa (ATTN SA) today expressed outrage and frustration over the move by the South African government to cut by two-thirds of its AIDS budget.
According to a report yesterday in the UK-based 'Financial Times' newspaper, "the initial budget of rand 296 million [euro 34 million] for the first phase of the roll-out of treatment, up to the end of next month, has been cut to rand 90 million by the Treasury, without explanation."
- This budget cut serves as the death knell for the fleeting promise of widespread treatment access to life-saving AIDS drugs that our government promised us here in South Africa, said Swazi Hlubi, lead coordinator in ATTN/SA and Executive Director of the Network of AIDS Communities of South Africa.
He added that the AIDS treatment activists had "such renewed hope with the treatment plan unveiled by our government in September, but once again, our government has dashed our hopes and we are angered and saddened over this ploy and call on the government to reconsider these cuts."
The 'Financial Times' report had also noted that "South Africa's national HIV/AIDS treatment plan was approved last November and distribution of the drugs was expected to start within weeks. The health department said it planned to treat 53,000 people with antiretrovirals by the end of March, but the delays make that target virtually impossible to achieve."
- More than almost any other country on the planet, South Africa has been truly ravaged by AIDS, commented Terri Ford, Director of Advocacy for AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), the US' largest AIDS group and operator of the 'Ithembalabantu' (People's Hope) free AIDS treatment clinic in Durban, KwaZulu Natal.
He added that he considered it "an outrage" that South Africa would announce a treatment plan after years and years of delay "to only then pull the hopes of their people away with this short-sighted and heartless funding cut."
The South African Ministry of Health has made no official statement regarding the matter, but Nono Simelela, Head of the South African AIDS Directorate today told the press that the budget cuts are less dramatic than they seem.
The current financial year ends on 31 March and government had failed spending the large amount approved in November. In the new financial year - 1 April 2004 to 31 March 2005 - the AIDS treatment budget would be greatly increased, Ms Simelela held. For the rest of this financial year, no initiated programmes would be cut, she added.
According to official statistics, South Africa has the world's highest number of people infected with HIV, totalling almost five million persons. Of these, AIDS activists say that some 500,000 are in urgent need of AIDS drugs. These numbers are however contested.
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