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World AIDS Day: South Africa to treat all HIV children

To mark World AIDS Day, South Africa's President Jacob Zuma announced a major policy shift, offering to provide treatment to all children diagnosed as HIV-positive.

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The policies of Thabo Mbeki, who disputed the link between sexual behavior and AIDS, together with antagonistic attitudes of his Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang – who urged HIV patients to eat garlic and beet roots, and to drink lemon juice to ward off the disease – contributed to an estimated 330,000 premature deaths, according to a Harvard University study. Some African National Congress party radicals have called for Mr. Mbeki to face charges of genocide for his HIV policies.

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But while calls for punishing Mbeki might please some, Adam Habib – no fan of Mbeki – says that other ministers in Mbeki's Cabinet, including Mbeki's former vice president, Jacob Zuma, would also be equally guilty, if only for remaining silent.

"Zuma is taking a stand that irrevocably puts South Africa on a different path, and he's trying to distance himself from his predecessor, and for that he should be applauded," says Mr. Habib, a political analyst and vice chancellor at the University of Johannesburg. "My question is why didn't he think his voice could be heard before? If Mbeki should be charged with genocide, then half of the current cabinet who were with Mbeki could find themselves in a mess too. Where does it stop?"

But Zuma's announcement leaves open a key question: who pays for it?

South Africa currently provides anti-retroviral (ARV) treatments to 700,000 HIV-positive patients, an increase of 216,000 from last year. Each ARV treatment costs roughly $1,500 per year. In the past, the US government and foreign donors helped South Africa to provide those ARV treatments free on demand, and today, the US ambassador to South Africa, Donald Gipps, announced that the US would pitch in an additional $120 million next year for AIDS treatment and research. But over time, the greater burden for providing treatment will fall on South Africa's shoulders.

"I don't know how we're going to do it," says Mr. Chipkin. "We have to somehow scrape it all together, but what that means in terms of sacrifices, I can't say."


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