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SAfrica to Appeal AIDS Drug Ruling

December 19, 2001

CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) _ The South African government said Wednesday it would appeal a court ruling compelling it to provide a key drug to HIV positive pregnant women that would lower chances of passing the virus on to their children.

The Pretoria High Court ruled Friday that the government had to make the drug nevirapine available countrywide. It also ordered it to institute a comprehensive program to reduce mother-to-child transmission of HIV nationwide.

The court gave the government until March 31 to report back on how the program _ which was to include counseling, HIV testing, and the distribution of baby formula _ was being implemented.

``We have instructed our legal counsel to appeal the judgment to the Constitutional Court as soon as practicable,″ Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang said in a statement.

``Having examined the reasoning of the judgment and the orders made, we came to the conclusion that this judgment could have far-reaching implications in defining our constitutional democracy and in shaping the state’s responsibility for the delivery of social services,″ she said.

Studies show nevirapine can reduce the transmission of the virus from mother to child during labor by up to 50 percent.

German-based company Boehringer Ingelheim has offered to distribute the drug for free, but the government argued that the drug’s safety remained unproven and that it lacked the resources to provide follow-up treatment.

Distribution of the drug was restricted to 18 pilot sites.

AIDS activists and a group of pediatricians sued the government to change its policy.

The government’s decision to challenge the High Court ruling was regrettable, said Nathan Geffen, a spokesman for the Treatment Action Campaign, which lodged the lawsuit.

``We are concerned that this delay will result in further unnecessary HIV infections and loss of life,″ he said.

An estimated 4.7 million South Africans _ one in nine _ are HIV positive.

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