CAPE TOWN, South Africa -- A leading international human rights
group on Wednesday accused South Africa's president of neglect
in tackling the AIDS epidemic sweeping his country.
The New York-based Human Rights Watch urged President Thabo
Mbeki to take urgent action to slow the spread of AIDS. Mbeki
has previously been accused of not being aggressive enough in
handling the epidemic.
An independent study by the government's Medical Research
Council found up to 7 million South Africans could die of AIDS
by 2010, and called on the government to intervene more
But the government has disputed the findings and refuses to
make AIDS drugs available through the public health system,
saying they are unaffordable and their safety has not been
proven. In the past, Mbeki has questioned the link between HIV
and AIDS, saying poverty and malnutrition also contribute to
the epidemic's spread.
"The continued refusal of your government to ... support the
provision of the low-cost treatment for prevention of
mother-to-child transmission, along with public statements that
sow confusion about the scientific basis for HIV/AIDS
prevention and treatment programs, are acts of injustice
against your people," said a letter from Human Rights Watch.
The human rights group said that while many governments were
guilty of inaction in responding to AIDS, South Africa had gone
one step further by actively undermining proven AIDS
The Treatment Action Campaign, an AIDS activists group, is
suing the government to make AIDS drugs available through the
public health system to HIV-positive pregnant women to prevent
the transmission of the virus to their babies. The case is due
to go to court on Monday.
The government has repeatedly said its response to the AIDS
crisis has been appropriate.