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Call for an Aids truth commission

Resource type: News

Cape Argus (South Africa) |


‘Denialism has tarnished the image of SA’s health sector’


South Africa needs to have a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) to examine the way in which the government has dealt with the HIV/Aids pandemic over the past decade, to help rebuild trust between the health sector and grassroots communities, says a city activist.

Speaking at a conference reviewing the TRC recommendations and the need for redress, Cape Town Aids activist and lawyer Fatima Hassan, who works for the Aids Law Project, said the government denialism projected by former president Thabo Mbeki and former health minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang had tarnished the image of the country’s health sector.

To allow for it to be rebuilt, the perpetrators, victims and beneficiaries of the denialism needed to come forward.

Tshabalala-Msimang has been widely accused by activists of spreading confusion about HIV/Aids with her distrust of anti-retroviral medication and support for nutritional “remedies” such as garlic, beetroot, lemon, olive oil and the African potato.

The four-day conference, which is being held at the V&A Waterfront, has been organised by the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, the Foundation for Human Rights and the Desmond Tutu Peace Centre to review the TRC recommendations a decade after the report was handed to the government.

Hassan said such a commission, which could be headed by human rights bodies such as the SA Human Rights Commission, could attempt to engage the government, communities, health workers, scientists and researchers to discuss the impact of these denials and how to move forward with a clean slate.

She said one of the major challenges faced by the leadership of the Health Department was the “huge gap” between health services received by the rich and the poor, which contributed to increased death rates among the poor and children younger than five.

About 260 mothers, babies and children died every day in South Africa.

Lack of healthcare was also exacerbated by other social issues such as unavailability of public transport to health facilities.

“While my rich friends lived longer, many of my poor friends have died because they didn’t have access to anti-retroviral drugs. For most people living in underprivileged communities there’s no free transport to go to healthcare facilities to get ARVs,” Hassan said.

“These people are just too poor to afford transport fares and they end up dying at home without getting treatment.”

Calling for the introduction of national health insurance, she said user fees in the health sector should also be addressed.

“Some people are too scared to go to hospital for fear of paying user fees. They get embarrassed if they can’t afford to pay R75 admission fee,” she said.

Hassan also slammed the public health sector for discrimination and a lack of accountability, charging that foreigners were being denied ARVs and turned away from hospitals just because of their nationality.

Mark Blecher, director of social services in the National Treasury, told the meeting that while the government had made good progress in some parts of the health industry, including access to healthcare, malaria control, and measles and malnutrition reduction, the rising death rates associated with HIV/Aids and tuberculosis were still a concern.

Another concern was public health sector staff shortages, as a result of people emigrating or moving into the private sector, which had resulted in 30,000 posts remaining vacant.

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South Africa