Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang and the health MECs in all nine provinces are to defend the court action launched by the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) and hundreds of doctors to force them to provide antiretroviral treatment to HIV-positive pregnant women in the public health system.
The TAC and doctors sent a letter of demand followed by court papers asking the national health ministry and provinces to supply the antiretroviral drugs or details of a plan to do so.
Government was given until yesterday to say if it would defend the action.
Western Cape, which has a plan in place, is defending the action but notified Tshabalala-Msimang its approach would be different. A spokesman for health MEC Nick Koornhof said last night that the province would have preferred it had the TAC not included it in the action as it had a plan in operation to provide the treatment.
The province would use its own team of lawyers and would likely try to avoid being lumped into the same action with the other respondents.
A similar approach seemed possible from Gauteng, which, while defending the action, has written a letter explaining its own rollout for the provision of treatment.
Earlier in the year, Gauteng launched the rollout of its plan, making it clear it intended to give treatment more widely than the provision of two sites would allow for.
It has become clear that the court case and the issue of the provision of antiretroviral treatment are dividing the public health system.
The letter from the health department of Gauteng shows the two sites for the national expansion programme. It then names several more sites already approved by the province and says more will be announced in due course.
Western Cape wrote to the TAC's lawyer Geoff Bud lender in July, saying the health minister has indicated she believes it to be appropriate that a single submission serve as a response to the legal moves.
Koornhof, however, sent Bud lender a copy of his letter to Tshabalala-Msimang that details the province's plans for the provisions of anti-retroviral treatment.
Source: Business Day, 13 September 2001