29 October, 2006

SA AIDS policy - betroot out, drugs in.

Mantombazana Edmie Tshabalala-Msimang, the South African health minister, better known as Dr. Beetroot, in honour of her recommended cure for AIDS, is no longer in charge of her country's response to the disease. According to allAfrica.com President Mbeki has had enough of world-wide ridicule and has replaced Mantombazana Edmie Tshabalala-Msimang (for whom thanks be to copy and paste) with his Deputy President, Phumzile-Mlambo Ngcuka.

"The beetroot and all that lemon stuff is out the window. These guys are now serious about getting it right," an adviser involved in recasting government's policy told the influential daily.

He was referring to Tshabalala-Msimang's much-ridiculed obsession with vegetables as a method to manage the disease.

Organisers of this weekend's conference said the minister, who was discharged from hospital on Friday after suffering from a lung ailment, was not invited to the conference to ensure unity and no controversy.

In September, after an United Nations AIDS conference where Stephen Lewis, the UN special envoy for AIDS in Africa, accused the South African government of expounding HIV/AIDS theories "more worthy of a lunatic fringe than a concerned and compassionate state".

The attack, aided by internal pressure from labour and civic groups prompted Mbeki to announce a shake-up which sidelined Tshabalala-Msimang and established an inter-ministerial committee to oversee the implementation of the comprehensive plan against HIV/AIDS. The plan included reviving the South African National AIDS Council (Sanac), now headed by Mlambo-Ngcuka.

A council workshop on Tuesday will help to plot the way forward.

The AIDS conference, attended by a number of civil society groups, including the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) and the South African Council of Churches, as well as the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), aims to come up with a plan to help government curb HIV/AIDS.

Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi told the deputy president: "Now you've come and you have been brilliant... It looks like the days of marching against the government (on being ineffective regarding HIV/AIDS) are over. We are happy people."
Mantombazana Edmie Tshabalala-Msimang remains as health minister.

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