South Africa Unveils New AIDS Strategy

The government of South Africa has a new strategy for fighting AIDS. The BBC's Peter Biles talks with Madeleine Brand about the nation's approach to prevention and treatment.

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MIKE PESCA, host:

This is DAY TO DAY from NPR News. I'm Mike Pesca.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

And I'm Madeleine Brand.

Its president used to say poverty not HIV caused AIDS. Its deputy president said he took a shower after sex to prevent HIV infection. And its Health Minister said that beetroot and garlic could treat AIDS. Today on World AIDS Day, South Africa announced a new strategy for fighting AIDS, rejecting denial and odd theories.

The disease kills some 1,000 South Africans everyday. Peter Biles of the BBC joins me now from Nelspruit, South Africa. That's where the AIDS strategy was unveiled today. And Peter, tell us the details of this new strategy.

Mr. PETER BILES (BBC): Well, I think there's no doubt that the South African government's approach to the HIV/AIDS crisis has certainly undergone a dramatic turnaround in just the last few months. And what the government has done today is to release a framework document, which will lead to more detailed consultations in the New Year, setting out plans for the next five years, from 2007 up until 2011.

And basically they're saying that there are two broad aims to reduce the number of new infections, especially among young people in the age group of 15-24 and to reduce the impact of HIV and AIDS on individuals and their families. And basically, of course, that means improving treatment and increasing the rollout antiretroviral drugs, which are used for the most seriously ill.

BRAND: And what caused this dramatic turn around?

Mr. BILES: There is a new partnership, a new relationship between governments and civil society groups. The government now believes that it has a comprehensive program on HIV/AIDS. It doesn't deny that AIDS is caused by HIV, and it actually prides itself on the extent to which it has one of the best AIDS programs anywhere in the world and the extent to which it's rolling out antiretroviral drugs at a fairly fast pace. There are now more than 200,000 people on ARVs in South Africa, although, of course, they need to step that up, perhaps to as many as 800,000 in the next five years or so.

BRAND: And how will it do that? Does it have a plan to do that or are these just sort of broad goals that they would like to achieve?

Mr. BILES: At the moment they are broad goals. The government has committed money to it. There is a budget. But at the moment they haven't set any specific targets, and that was one of the objections from AIDS lobby groups, AIDS activists. People like the Treatment Action Campaign.

They said this comprehensive strategy plan should really have targets saying what's going to be done by 2008, what's going to be done by 2009, and that's why they've - on this World AIDS Day - just released the framework document, the bare details. And they'll go back into consultations over the next three or four months and come up with a much more detailed document.

BRAND: Peter, the United States has promoted what it calls the ABC strategy for prevention. The A standing for abstinence, the B for be faithful, and the C -if those two don't work - use condoms. Has that been embraced by South Africa? And if so, how effective has it been?

Mr. BILES: The South African government has always emphasized the ABC strategy, but that was at a time when AIDS groups were saying really the emphasis needs to be on the rollout of more antiretroviral treatments.

So the government, I think, believes they have a comprehensive plan that embraces all these things now. That they are talking about proper treatment, using ARVs where they can, and also working very hard at prevention. They want to halve the number of new infections by 2011.

BRAND: The BBC's Peter Biles joining us from South Africa. Thank you.

Mr. BILES: You're welcome.

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