The Treatment Action Campaign's (TAC) condemnation of President
Thabo Mbeki's stance on HIV/Aids death figures stemmed from a
misunderstanding, the government said on Thursday.
"They seem to have misunderstood what the president was saying,"
said government spokesperson Joel Netshitenzhe.
The TAC claimed on Wednesday that Mbeki had "misrepresented facts
and once again caused confusion on HIV/Aids" when he spoke on
SABC television on Sunday.
It disagreed in particular with Mbeki's statement that Aids death
statistics were not available, and that South Africa's HIV/Aids
programme was among the best in the world.
Netshitenzhe said the president had been referring to all deaths
in South Africa -- not only Aids deaths -- when he said
statistics were not available. He said Mbeki was not trying to
underplay the importance of Aids, but felt it was necessary to
have a full picture of the causes of mortality in the country.
The TAC had given figures showing that several developing
countries treated more people for Aids than South Africa did.
"We need to get rid of the notion that dealing with Aids is only
about anti-retrovirals," said Netshitenzhe. He quoted several
United Nations sources who had praised South Africa's
Presidential spokesperson Bheki Khumalo said it was
counterproductive to haggle over such details.
"We have made a call, the HIV/Aids programme is there, and the
government is moving ahead. The challenge for all South Africans
is for us to work together to ensure the realisation of this
The TAC said it wanted to work together with the government, and
welcomed the efforts being made by several provincial health
On Wednesday TAC treasurer Mark Heywood said the organisation
would monitor the roll-out of the Department of Health's
anti-retroviral programme, and would publish a report on this on
March 21. If it was felt to be necessary, it would take urgent
Heywood also demanded that the Health Department treat the
situation as an emergency, and buy and distribute emergency
supplies of the drugs while the process of drug sourcing and
capacity-building takes place.
"Many hospitals have the capacity, they just don't have the
medicines," he said.
The TAC has sent a letter to the head of drug procurement at the
Health Department, Humphrey Zokufa, asking for more details of
the procurement process and "immediate and urgent access to a
supply of anti-retroviral drugs to cater for interim needs".
On Friday the Health Department will advertise for an "expression
of interest" from potential suppliers of anti-retrovirals, said
He admitted receiving a letter from the TAC, but did not want to
The TAC's main criticism is that the Health Department shows no
sense of urgency while people are dying daily, but Netshitenzhe
said the Cabinet was satisfied with the progress of the HIV/Aids
"Doing things in a piecemeal fashion would be disastrous for the
country. There are a number of things that need to be done to
ensure that we have a sustainable programme."