Press statement - Emergency Procurement of ARV Medicines Now!
On 10 March 2004, the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) formally demanded that the Minister of Health procure an emergency interim supply of antiretroviral (ARV) medicines immediately. We warned that the failure to meet the deadline of 18 March 2004 would lead to urgent litigation.
On 17 March 2004, we received a letter from the acting Director-General of Health (Dr Kamy Chetty) who told us that the Minister is out of the country and that she can only respond to our demand by Wednesday 24 March.
The Ministry's cat and mouse game has cost thousands of lives already. The Minister was in the country for six days after receiving our letter of demand. During this period we met with senior officials in the National Department of Health and explained to them the steps that the Minister can and must take to procure ARV medicines urgently in the interest of saving lives. Despite this, the Minister made no effort to respond.
The TAC has initiated a number of efforts to avoid going to court. When the Operational Plan was being drafted, we appealed to government to ensure that they took all reasonable steps to provide ARV treatment to those in urgent need. Since then, we have repeatedly raised the issue of urgent procurement in an attempt to resolve the issue without going to court.
In early February, we wrote to Dr Humphrey Zokufa, the head of the ARV procurement team, raising our concerns. We have requested meetings with both the Minister and President Mbeki (see letters in previous TAC newsletters). To date, our letters remain unanswered. In the last two weeks, we have also met with the South African National AIDS Council (SANAC) and the ANC.
We have also conducted public meetings in the Western Cape, Gauteng, Eastern Cape and Limpopo to highlight our concerns. Senior health officials have attended most of these meetings. Although there has been progress in some provinces, the MinisterÕs lack of commitment to resolving the issue of procurement stands in their way of immediately providing ARV treatment in accredited sites.
In her letter, Dr Chetty said that Òit is not in the interests of anyone that we resort to court proceedings.Ó The TAC agrees. However, only the Minister of Health can take steps to make legal action unnecessary. To demonstrate our commitment to saving peopleÕs lives and resolving this issue without going to court, we have given the Minister until 13h00 on 24 March 2004 to respond.
We have informed the Minister that she must:
- Unambiguously undertake immediately to procure an interim supply of ARV medicines;
- Set out the steps that she will take to ensure that there is immediate procurement; and
- Tell us by when ARV medicines will be procured and delivered to provincial depots.
While legal action may not be in everyoneÕs interest, if necessary, we will turn to the courts to protect the rights of people with HIV/AIDS who need ARVs.
The TAC calls on the Minister of Health to meet her constitutional duties to respect life, dignity and access to healthcare services by procuring ARV medicines immediately. Let us work together to save lives.
TAC's Response to Letter from Dr Kamy Chetty, Acting Director-General of Health
Dr K S Chetty: Acting Director-General
Department of Health
Private Bag X828
Per fax: (012) 326 5484
Dear Dr Chetty
URGENT PROCUREMENT OF ANTIRETROVIRAL DRUGS - IMPLEMENTATION OF OPERATIONAL PLAN FOR COMPREHENSIVE HIV AND AIDS CARE, MANAGEMENT AND TREATMENT FOR SOUTH AFRICA
Thank you for your letter dated 17 March 2004.
We note that the Minister left for Geneva on Wednesday 17 March 2004. We are disappointed that the Minister left the country some six days after receiving our letter of demand dated 10 March 2004 (sent per facsimile on 11 March 2004) without urgently responding to our letter.
We have previously explained the need for urgent and speedy action. In particular, our client stressed the urgency at hand in a letter to you dated 10 March 2004 and which was further canvassed at a meeting held on Friday 12 March 2004 with the Department of Health.
Further, we have been advised that at a South African National AIDS Council (SANAC) meeting held on Wednesday 17 March 2004, Dr Simelela (co-ordinator of the Operational Plan and Chief Director: HIV/AIDS and TB) left the meeting early in order to meet with legal representatives to draft a response to our clientÕs letter of demand.
Despite our letter calling upon the Minister to respond by 18 March 2004 and the urgency giving rise to our letter, in your letter dated 17 March 2004, you indicate that the Minister will only be able to respond by Wednesday 24 March 2004, some six calendar days after her response was meant to be forthcoming.
Because of the seriousness of the issues at hand, coupled with the fact that many peopleÕs lives depend on the speedy action of the Minister, we have advised our client to grant the Minister an opportunity to respond by 13h00 on Wednesday 24 March 2004, failing which, we will proceed with legal action against her on an urgent basis.
We sincerely hope that in her response, the Minister will give an unambiguous undertaking immediately to procure an interim supply of ARV medicines. In so doing, we trust that she will also set out the steps that she will take to ensure that there is immediate procurement, as well as the date/s by when ARV medicines will be procured and delivered to provincial depots.
Kindly take note that if the Minister fails to respond or respond adequately by 13h00 on Wednesday 24 March 2004, we will have no option but to file legal papers in the Pretoria High Court on Thursday 25 March 2004. For this reason, we have advised our client to make available a draft copy of its legal papers by Tuesday 23 March 2004 to the Minister so that she can benefit from the convenience of early access to them.
As we have indicated in our previous correspondence, we sincerely hope that this matter can be resolved as a matter of urgency without having to go to court. If you have any queries, please do not hesitate to contact me on 083 279 9962.
Law & Treatment Access Unit
AIDS Law Project
T 021 422 2186
F 021 424 0875 and 011 403 2341
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