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SPEECH IN PARLIAMENT by Dr Sipo Mzimela, MP re UDM Response to Statement by Minister of Health on AZT (25/08/1999)

Madam Speaker, honourable members, any subject can be debated to a point where it becomes meaningless and useless. It will be a sad day if the debates surrounding AZT and, by extension, HIV/Aids become so debated that in the end it is meaningless and taken as a joke, as something that does not have to be taken very seriously by anyone. We must never allow that to happen.

We are honourable members, and all of us are quite smart. However, we are not medical scientists, and in every other drug that has been imported into this country, a vaccine or anything to do with the cure or the prolonging of the lives of those who are ill, we have accepted the evidence of medical scientists on face value and applied those drugs accordingly.

I doubt if there is any drug on earth which does not have side effects. Aspirin has side effects. Penicillin has side effects. However, that has not stopped us from applying these and using them where necessary.

The Minister has told us, giving a great deal of scientific data which is readily available, of course, and has given us a whole list of reasons why some investigation still needs to be done by our medical scientists in South Africa. However, I think she probably inadvertently hit the nail on the head when she said that what we need to do is to examine the appropriateness and the affordability of the drug. In other words, our resistance to the application of AZT has to do with affordability.

Should we not then, as honourable members, look at ways of financing this if the problem is, in fact, affordability? Can we not say that after we introduced the national lottery, a percentage of the profits from that national lottery must go directly toward purchasing AZT and distributing it to those who need it? Can we not say, since we are going to have a whole list of casinos making billions and billions of rands in profit, that a percentage of those profits must be allocated to the fund which will be set aside for acquiring AZT so that it can be distributed to those who need it?

The Minister has told us that it is going to be exceedingly expensive to supply this drug. It will cost the country a great deal. What she did not tell us is how much it will cost the country, if we do not find a way of making this drug affordable. What will it mean to the country when we have millions and millions of our citizens die from HIV/Aids when, in fact, they could have had their lives prolonged in time for them to make a positive contribution to the transformation and the up-building of this country?

I think we need to apply our minds to the right measures, and the measure right in front of us now is how we can find ways of making AZT affordable to all those who need it, and stop the debate which has no end.

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