'Axe Manto to save lives'

2006-08-22 12:22

Cape Town - The Independent Democrats' call for Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang's dismissal is about saving lives, not egos, says ID leader Patricia de Lille.

De Lille was responding to the health ministry's swipe at her on Monday for urging Tshabalala-Msimang's sacking.

"I am humbled by the deaths of our people, not by a person with a title she doesn't deliver on.

"While Tshabalala-Msimang's media release was obviously written in the hope that this would become a personal fight, the minister's ignorance of her own department's statistics is further proof that she must go," De Lille said.

The ministry said, among other things, if De Lille "has ambitions of becoming an important player in the country's political landscape", she should at least try to get the basic facts right before making public statements.

It went on to ridicule her accusation that the ministry had failed to meet the target of putting 53 000 people on antiretroviral (ARV) therapy.

In her response, De Lille said: "In fact, that 53 000 she talks about was the deadline for March 2004, which was over two years ago and, as we know, the minister missed it.

Most people living on pap, cabbage

"And my information comes straight from the health department's very own Operational Plan for Comprehensive HIV and Aids Care, Management and Treatment for South Africa."

By now, according to the same department plan, close to 380 000 people with CD4 counts below 200 should be on ARVs, she said.

However, only around 160 000 people were actually being given them.

Saying South Africa had the highest number of people on ARVs in the world might sound impressive, but to do so when the country had the second highest number of infections in the world was meaningless, De Lille said.

"Besides the minister's costly failure on that score, ask her if - as any manager should - she can provide proper stats, like how many of those on ARVs have adverse affects, or whether she can provide a gender or age breakdown of those on ARVs.

"'The answer to that is no. But I know a few stats myself. For instance, less than 15% of our HIV-positive women who give birth are accessing MTCT (mother-to-child-transmission prevention).

"The minister talks about beetroot, garlic and lemons, when most of our people are living on pap and cabbage. There is no scientific evidence that ARVs can be replaced by garlic, lemon and beetroot.

"If the department of health is not functioning then their manager is not functioning. We need a new manager," De Lille said.

The Democratic Alliance and the Treatment Action Campaign have also been vehement in their calls on President Thabo Mbeki to fire Tshabalala-Msimang for failing in "almost every aspect of her job".