February 6, 2006

South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki has hit back at critics of his country's HIV/AIDS policy claiming that over 100,000 people are receiving life-saving antiretroviral (ARV) drugs through public health programmes. He went on to say that, combined with patients in the private sector, South Africa has one of largest HIV/AIDS treatment programmes in the world.

However, AIDS activists in the country estimate that as many as 500,000 people in the country remain in need of ARVs. Opposition politicians have also stressed the complexity of the situation and have called for further policies other than merely the rollout of medicines, claiming that smaller countries such as Uganda are doing more with their resources. Approximately 6.5mn South Africans are living with HIV/AIDS. In the past Mbeki has been attacked for questioning the link between HIV and AIDS.

Meanwhile, South Africa's AIDS Law Project (ALP) claims that discrimination in the workplace concerning HIV/AIDS is still common, despite most employers having specific policies in place. The ALP says it receives at least 30 complaints a month from workers who have been dismissed due to their HIV/AIDS status.

Meanwhile, industry observes state that shrinking labour pools, increased costs and decreased productivity could end up undermining South African businesses unless measures are taken to protect workers suffering from the disease.