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[NAIROBI] The South African government announced last week that it would investigate ways of providing the anti-AIDS drug nevirapine to all HIV-positive pregnant women and their newborn babies throughout the country.

The announcement follows a ruling by the country's supreme court in July requiring the government to provide the drug — which is said to cut mother-to-child transmission of the disease by up to half — in all public hospitals.

The government had earlier refused to provide nevirapine in state-run health centres, citing cost and safety concerns over the drug, even though around 100,000 HIV-positive babies are born in South Africa every year, and many do not live beyond their fifth birthday.

Making the announcement, the Deputy President, Jacob Zuma, said four of the country's nine provinces — Gauteng, Western Cape, Northwest and KwaZulu Natal — had already extended the provision of the anti-retroviral beyond initial pilot sites.

"Following the ruling of the constitutional court on nevirapine, all the provinces have been provided with guidelines for the implementation of the prevention of mother-to-child transmission programme," said Nzuma, who also heads the South African National Aids Council.

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