2005-09-27-S Africa hits back over Aids slur

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2005-09-27-S Africa hits back over Aids slur


South Africa's health ministry has angrily denied accusations that it had "betrayed" the population by not doing enough to fight HIV/Aids.

It said the trade union leader who made the attacks was "irresponsible" and "needs to get his facts straight".

Cosatu leader Zwelinzima Vavi had also accused President Thabo Mbeki of a "failure of leadership".

Six million of South Africa's 45m people are infected with HIV, according to the health department.

Strains have emerged in the alliance between Mr Mbeki's ANC and the unions, who demand more action on poverty.

The tensions worsened when ex-deputy President Jacob Zuma was sacked in June.

Mr Zuma, who is popular with the unions, is to appear in court on corruption charges next month.

Spinach

The health ministry said in a statement that 61,000 people were being treated with anti-retroviral drugs in public hospitals, not the 10,000 Mr Vavi had cited.

It also accused him of being used by the pressure group Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) - whose congress he was addressing.

"Any health ministry that presides over the spread of an epidemic like this one has much to answer for," said Mr Vavi, secretary general of the South African Congress of Trade Unions (Cosatu).

South Africa began last year to distribute anti-retroviral drugs - which reduce the effects of HIV - in state clinics, following years of pressure by activists.

However, government critics say that the implementation of the new policy has been too slow.

"When last did any of us hear our president mentioning the words HIV and Aids?" Mr Vavi asked.

Mr Vavi also criticised Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, who has emphasised the need for a healthy diet in combating HIV/Aids.

"Too many times we hear her speaking about spinach. There is nothing wrong with encouraging our people to eat healthily and to live healthily," Mr Vavi said.

"But there is something very wrong when there is silence about the other government policy such as the need to ensure that people have access to cheap anti-retrovirals."

 


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