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Published: Thursday, 5/2/2002

Help for South Africans

Finally, the South African government has decided to administer HIV drugs to victims of rape and to HIV-infected mothers to keep them from passing the virus to their children.

The government still does not admit a connection between HIV and AIDS, so its decision is remarkable. South African President Thabo Mbeki has stubbornly refused to acknowledge the link between the virus and the disease. Up to this point he rejected administering AIDS drugs to South Africans.

Is Mr. Mbeki caving in under intense international criticism of his views? That's not important. What is important is that in a nation where 4.7 million people, or one in nine, are HIV positive, some will get help.

The South African government expects to soon make state-funded anti-retroviral treatment available to sexual assault victims. In a comprehensive package for rape victims, they will be counseled on the use of the drugs and tested for sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy, and HIV.

South African hospitals and clinics have also received approval to administer a drug to help prevent women with the AIDS virus from passing it to their newborns. The South African Constitutional Court upheld a lower court order for clinics to administer nevirapine, pending an appeal. The drug should be widely available after December.

While millions of South Africans die, Mr. Mbeki says that the pharmaceutical firms are just trying to fatten profits. There is an economic connection, but it has more to do with the fact that his nation is adversely affected by decreasing confidence in South Africa's economic future.

It's unfortunate that it has taken this long for South Africa to see the light and take these small but important steps. If the pressure is maintained, more South Africans with HIV and AIDS will eventually get help.

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