PRETORIA (AFP) — South Africa's deputy president said Monday the AIDS-blighted country was on course in efforts to combat the disease despite a slew of recent controversies in the health ministry.
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, chaired the first meeting of the newly formed South African National Aids Council (SANAC), which was attended by the controversial health minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang and members of civil society in the capital Pretoria.
"We are on course. There is work in progress... up until 2011," said Mlambo-Ngcuka.
The meeting was held against a backdrop of uncertainty over the country's AIDS plan following the recent firing of deputy-health minister, Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge -- regarded as one of the plan's masterminds -- who spoke out against some of Tshabalala-Msimang's policies.
The axing of Madlala-Routledge, followed by a string of reports accusing Tshabalala-Msimang of alcoholism, and theft, threatened to cloud the council's efforts but Mlambo-Ncguka said it was never discussed in the first meeting.
The National Strategic Plan (NSP), which aims to halve new infections by 2011 and see 80 percent of the AIDS-infected receiving treatment, has been lauded internationally as a turnaround for the South African government.
South Africa is one of the countries worst-hit by HIV with prevalence standing at 18.4 percent in 2006, and with 5.41 million people living with the illness.
Despite expressing concern about commitment to the targets ahead of the meeting by the SANAC, the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) was pleased with the outcome.
TAC spokesman Mark Heywood said they were "pleased with the momentum driving the creation of strategies to deal with the HIV/AIDS pandemic".
"There is momentum... there is a very serious consideration of some of the different questions around strategy, around treatment protocols, about how to expand access, how to create a culture of knowing your HIV status," said Heywood.
Tshabalala-Msimang, who came under constant criticism over her AIDS policies especially her promotion of vegetables over the use of anti-retrovirals, said SANAC had been briefed on major policy issues such as the role of male circumcision as a prevention tool.
She said that despite several studies showing that male circumcision could lessen chances of contracting HIV, there was a need to study the socio-cultural impacts of rolling out a circumcision plan.
She said a meeting with the World Health Organisation had decided to view results of several studies as "unfolding" rather than "overwhelming" evidence to investigate further before taking policy decisions on male circumcision in Africa.
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