Not much changed in South Africa after Thabo Mbeki resigned the presidency last week. But his successor did make one move that could mean the difference between life and death for thousands if not millions of Africans: he removed the country's infamous health minister, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang.
International health officials regularly blasted Tshabalala-Msimang for denying that AIDS was a problem, calling anti-retroviral drugs "poisonous" and suggesting that people infected with HIV eat garlic and beetroot instead.
Partly as a result, few South Africans infected with HIV receive the most effective treatment: only 28 percent of those who qualify for anti-retrovirals are on the drug regiment.
Leadership alone can make a difference in the fight against AIDS, according to a study from the AIDS and Society Research Unit at South Africa's University of Cape Town. The study found that "when it came to implementing effective AIDS policies, good leadership could overcome resource constraints, health system weaknesses and other limitations."
We still don't know who will fill the vacated health post, but it'd be hard to find a candidate worse than the one who just departed. Let's hope the new officeholder signals a change in attitude. South Africa is emerging as an important economic leader in sub-Saharan Africa. It's high time the country led the region's fight against HIV/AIDS, too.