Global Insider: Once a Laggard, South Africa Now Leads on AIDS Response

In an effort to lower drug prices, South Africa and Swiss pharmaceutical firm Lonza Group agreed last month to create a $211 million joint venture in Pretoria to manufacture chemicals used in drugs that treat HIV. In an email interview, Peter Navario, an adjunct associate professor of public policy at New York University and a former global health fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, discussed South Africa’s HIV/AIDS policy.*

WPR: How has South Africa's HIV/AIDS policy evolved over the past 10 years?

Peter Navario: Over the past 10 years, South Africa has gone from global laggard to playing a leading role in the global HIV response. In the early 2000s, South African HIV policy was characterized by a recalcitrant and mendacious leadership that questioned established HIV science and obstructed efforts to roll out HIV prevention and treatment programs, leading to an estimated 330,000 preventable deaths. Internal pressure from civil society groups and an order from the Constitutional Court in 2002 prodded the government to begin providing medicine to prevent HIV transmission from infected mothers to their infants, and, following a parliamentary revolt, the Ministry of Health reluctantly began a public sector treatment program in 2004. Improvements to HIV policy accelerated with the 2008 election of Jacob Zuma as president. Today, South Africa’s HIV policies are in lockstep with World Health Organization guidelines, and an aggressive new strategic plan aims to tackle HIV-related stigma, meet 80 percent of treatment need and cut new infections in half by 2016.

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