SOWETO, South Africa (Reuters) - South Africa issued new
guidelines in its battle against AIDS on
Tuesday that limit the availability of key anti-AIDS drugs such
as AZT, which the government labeled expensive and toxic.
Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang used the surroundings
of a Soweto township clinic to announce minimum national
standards of health care for the country's estimated 4.2
million HIV-AIDS sufferers.
The new guidelines, designed to combat one of the world's
fastest growing rates of HIV infection, will limit the use of
AZT, denying it even to pregnant women to stop transmission to
their children and to rape victims.
The reluctance to widely dispense antiretrovirals, which have
been proven to help cut the risk of HIV transmission and help
alleviate opportunistic infections, is expected to prompt
renewed criticism of Pretoria's response to the AIDS crisis.
Government policy on AIDS has been shrouded in controversy
since President Thabo Mbeki questioned scientific orthodoxy
that HIV causes AIDS and questioned the efficacy of AZT, which
was first approved back in 1987.
"There is a narrow view again that continues to associate
prevention of mother to child transmission of HIV with the use
of antiretrovirals only," Tshabalala-Msimang said.
"We know there are other medical interventions...We know they
(antiretrovirals) are toxic," she said.
The government could not afford to dispense expensive Western
antiretroviral drugs and pharmaceutical companies should reduce
the cost of their drugs, she said.
"At no time has South Africa said it will never use
anti-retrovirals, but there are constraints," she added.
The new government guidelines estimate there are 50,000
HIV-positive children who have been infected by their mothers.
Safer sex, nutritional supplements, vaginal cleansing with an
antiseptic solution, and alternatives to breastfeeding are part
of the policy recommendations to cut the risks of
mother-to-child HIV transmission.
The guidelines take a different view on the use of
antiretrovirals to treat healthworkers infected with HIV by
patients in their care, acknowledging the success of drugs such
as AZT in fighting the disease.
The department also acknowledged a study in Thailand that
showed that antiretroviral therapy reduced mother-to-child
transmission by up to two-thirds if the medication was given
during pregnancy and labor and to the newborn infant.