South African President Jacob Zuma said on October 28 that his administration would make preventing and treating HIV/AIDS a top priority, Times LIVE reports. The announcement came 10 years to the date after former South African president Thabo Mbeki told the National Council of Provinces that it would be “irresponsible” for the state to give out antiretroviral drugs, deeming them toxic.

“We must come to terms with this reality,” Zuma said. “If we do not respond with urgency and resolve, we may well find our vision of a thriving nation slipping from our grasp.”

Mbeki made international headlines when he denounced HIV medications, telling the National Council years ago that there “exists a large volume of scientific literature alleging that, among other things, the toxicity of this drug is such that it is a danger to health. These are matters of great concern to the government as it would be irresponsible for us not to heed the dire warnings [of] medical researchers.”

According to the article, Zuma hopes to distance his administration from Mbeki’s AIDS denialist policy. Citing data from the country’s Medical Research Council, Statistics SA and other agencies, Zuma noted that six out of 10 South African deaths in 2006 were people younger than 50.

There is “a real danger that the number of deaths will soon overtake the number of births,” Zuma said. “Wherever you go across the country, you hear people lament the apparent frequency with which they have to bury family members and friends.”