Western Cape Premier and leader of the DA Helen Zille has been slammed for comments in which she criticised people who contract HIV through their own behaviour.
In her weekly newsletter on 6 November, Zille questioned why taxpayers should have to pay for “preventable illness” such as when people contract HIV through “irresponsible” behaviour.
“For almost a decade, many AIDS activists defended the right to privacy in the sexual domain – while demanding the right to full and free HIV treatment. Thus it became politically ‘incorrect’ to condemn the widespread practice of multiple concurrent sexual partners,” she wrote.
She added that the response to the HIV epidemic has “largely had the effect of fuelling further denial and dependency by absolving rational (usually male) adults from the responsibility of changing their behaviour. Taxpayers must foot the bill without asking any politically-incorrect questions. Enough already!”
Commenting later on Twitter, Zille said: “if you duck responsibility, don’t come running to the state when you need treatment”.
Writing on Quackdown.info, Gavin Silber and Nathan Geffen described Zille’s argument as “misinformed”, “unscientific” and “unconstitutional”.
“Consistently only providing medical care to people based on ‘personal responsibility’ leads to frightening consequences. It would mean cigarette smokers would not get treated for cancer. People who eat unhealthily would not get treated for type II diabetes or heart disease,” they wrote.
“The same for people who don’t look after their teeth properly, or suntan too much and develop skin cancer, or sportsmen who over-train and injure themselves. There is no precedent for providing health-care only to people who live a life of perfect responsibility”.
Silber and Geffen also argued that Zille’s stance would lead to poor people who cannot access private health care being discriminated against.
They further noted that providing antiretroviral treatment has actually been proven to be an effective way to reduce HIV transmission (and will, as a result, reduce healthcare costs in future).
Zille replied to Silber and Geffen’s article, accusing the piece of arguing against “a statement I never made. It invents a position, falsely ascribes it to me – and then seeks to challenge it”.
She further insisted that “It is totally ludicrous to say that I suggested withdrawing treatment from those who contract AIDS ‘irresponsibly’.”
They, in turn, cited numerous examples in which Zille appears to do just that.