South Africa´s Bishops Urge Prevention of Maternal Transmission of AIDS

Stalemate over Program Denies Unborn the Chance to Survive, They Say

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ROME, APRIL 17, 2002 ( The Catholic bishops´ conference in South Africa has called for support for a program aimed at preventing the maternal transmission of AIDS.

In a statement, the bishops expressed their concern for the continuing legal actions between the state and civil society with regard to the Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (MTCT) program in state health institutions.

The bishops point out that the «current stalemate serves only to deny a chance of survival to the unborn, it causes anger and frustration among others who are affected, it wastes valuable time and scarce resources and, worst of all, [it] deepens the impression that the government is indifferent to the plight of the very people who voted it into power.»

«Some of the reasons given by the state against the general implementation of MTCT programs are not unfounded,» they add. «For example: the effective collapse of the state health care system in many parts of the country means that most state facilities lack the capacity to run programs.»

Moreover, «poor training and low morale means that most caregivers will have to be trained from scratch in such things as counseling mothers about breast-feeding, formula feeding, etc. Many mothers already have impaired immune systems due to poverty-induced malnutrition. For these, anti-retrovirals could do more harm than good,» the bishops continued.

Although the above concerns are valid, «we believe that the state should not be using them to obstruct or delay the implementation of MTCT programs,» the bishops stressed. «Rather, it should see them as an opportunity to rebuild our crumbling public health system, to retrain underqualified and demotivated personnel, to strengthen and expand AIDS awareness and education, [and to implement] poverty alleviation programs.»

«We urge the state to address these issues with the political will that our desperate situation demands,» they added.

«Otherwise, it will be nearly impossible to argue against those who whisper that the state´s main concern is the survival of an inordinate number of orphans for whom it would be responsible,» they concluded.

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