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Health system "shambles" delaying ARV rollout

South Africa's health minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang vehemently defended the pace of the government's rollout of HIV/AIDS drugs at a weekend rally marking the start of national Sexually Transmitted Infection and Condom Week.

Speaking at Humansdorp in the Eastern Cape province, Tshabalala-Msimang said she would not allow drugs to be dispensed until the "shambles" in the health department was resolved. Currently only 2,000 out of 20,000 state doctors are reportedly able to administer and manage antiretroviral (ARV) drug treatment.

"The health care system is in shambles, and it would be irresponsible to begin dishing out antiretroviral drugs before we are ready," she reportedly told the crowd.

The minister's speech came a week after the AIDS activist group, Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), voiced their alarm over the lack of progress in the provision of ARVs through the public health system, which was agreed by the cabinet in November last year.

TAC warned that if delays continued, they would consider taking legal action as from 21 March.

Tshabalala-Msimang told the Humansdorp rally that no province could start its own ARV programme outside of the national treatment protocol, although 1,500 people were already on treatment in Western Cape Province.

On 12 February the head of KwaZulu-Natal's health department, Dr Zweli Mkhize, announced that the rollout of ARVs in his province would start in "a matter of weeks".

KwaZulu-Natal is the region hardest-hit by the pandemic, and Mkhize described the planned rollout as "the largest in the world". He also stressed that he had the blessing of the ministers of health and finance, and the South African National AIDS Council.

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