Landmark court ruling for military health service


History was made in the Cape Town High Court this week when an interim ruling allowed the SA Military Health Service (SAMHS) to administer anti-retroviral treatment to a new-born against his parents’ wishes.

Surgeon General Lieutenant General Veejay Ramlakan said the decision was a landmark one and showed to what lengths the SA National Defence Force’s (SANDF’s) medical arm of service would go to in order to provide proper medical care and treatment.
“The parents were taken to court by SAMHS after they refused to provide the baby with the necessary anti-retroviral treatment. To SAMHS the legal route was the last viable alternative to prevent HIV transmission from mother to child,” he said following this week’s High Court ruling.

SAMHS Colonel Louis Kirstein said in terms of the court ruling it could not be disclosed which of the parents was HIV positive.
“We also cannot identify them further than to say the father is a serving member of the SANDF.”

Ramlakan said the decision gave SAMHS the authority to: administer anti-retroviral treatment to the baby as required; do polymerase chain reaction tests on the baby; do therapeutic investigation or refer the baby for these investigations; administer Nevirapine during directly observed therapy supervision and administer all immunisations as and when they are due.

The interim court order also directs the parents to comply and co-operate and make the baby available for treatment.
“SAMHS acted in terms of its responsibility as prescribed by the National Health Act and views it as unfortunate this case had to go as far as the High Court,” the Surgeon General said.

The prevalence of HIV/AIDS in the SANDF is a major issue. “Although exact figures are not available, it is safe to assume HIV rates are higher than the current 17% national average for the ages 15-49, based not only on the demographics of the SANDF, but also the nature of military work which makes it ‘a vulnerable organisation’,” according to ISN Security Watch.
“To substantiate this claim, a comparison of death statistics show a higher proportion of deaths for corresponding age categories in the SANDF than in broader society – and these are not war related,” ISN Security Watch said. “Although the SANDF claims infection rates are lower than national average, this is disputed and general estimates place infection rates anywhere between 19 and 24%.”