The 16th World Congress of Family Doctors, meeting in Durban, will launched a global call to action on Monday to prevent the use of tobacco worldwide.
The chairperson of the scientific committee of the world organisation, Prof Bruce Sparks, head of the department of family medicine at the University of the Witwatersrand, said in an interview that family doctors worldwide were alarmed at the way in which certain tobacco companies were targeting women and children in developing countries.
Such behaviour was totally unethical and immoral.
Monday afternoon's plenary session against smoking was led by three heavyweights in the family doctors' association. They were Dr Daniel Ostergaard, vice-president for international and inter-professional activities of the American Academy of Family Physicians, Dr Michael Boland, president-elect of the congress, and Prof Richard Botelho, of the Family Medicine Centre in Rochester, New York.
Speaking at the official opening of the conference at the International Convention Centre on Sunday night, KwaZulu-Natal Minister of Health Zweli Mkhize said the HIV and AIDS epidemic in South Africa was negating any progress which the government might have made in the socio-economic
field. He said the use of anti retroviral drugs to treat HIV and AIDS patients in provincial hospitals or clinics remained only a distant possibility at this stage, although the private sector was well equipped to use such medication.
Dr Mkhize said it would cost R70 000 to treat each HIV patient at a provincial institution for a year.
Even if only 100 000 people were given such treatment in one year, the cost would be sufficient to cripple the annual provincial health budget.
The minister said the government was looking at extending the free provision of Nevirapine to mothers at provincial hospitals and clinics to prevent the mother-to-child transmission of HIV and AIDS.
He said the outbreak of HIV and AIDS was changing the face of family medicine in South Africa.
But the government remained optimistic that a solution would be found to the problem of the current epidemic.
He said the government was committed to playing a leading role in international collaboration to find solutions to the many problems posed by HIV and AIDS, especially in the search for a new vaccine.
The doctors' conference is being attended by 2 400 delegates from 67 countries.
It is the first time that the conference has been held in Africa. Apart from the discussion surrounding smoking and HIV and AIDS, a great deal of attention will also be paid to women's issues, including rape and violence against women.
New research has shown that the majority of family doctors in the world by the end of this century will be women.
Source: The Mercury, 14 May 2001