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The South African government has announced that it will provide anti-HIV drugs to rape victims and infected pregnant women, and has formally accepted that HIV causes AIDS.

A Cabinet statement made on Wednesday (17 April) says that the government will make antiretroviral drugs available to survivors of sexual assault, and will roll out a programme to prevent mother-to-child transmission based on trials of the drug nevirapine.

It also states that the “government’s starting point is based on the premise that HIV causes AIDS”, a fact that had been questioned by President Thabo Mbeki.

The announcement is seen by many as a significant enhancement to the government’s commitment to fight the country’s HIV epidemic.

In a press release, the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), a non-governmental group that campaigns for access to AIDS treatment, described the statement as “cause for optimism because it allows us to rebuild the trust between government and civil society.”

The announcement follows a lengthy battle between the government and TAC over the provision of nevirapine to HIV-positive pregnant women. So far, the government’s policy has been to limit the drug to 18 pilot sites. Last month, however, the constitutional court upheld a ruling that ordered the state to supply the drug to public sector doctors.

But despite its apparent shift in thinking, the government has confirmed that it will go ahead with its latest appeal against the court ruling, a move based on the position that courts have no right to make policy.

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Related external links:

South African government statement
Treatment Action Campaign website

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