November 7, 2002
AIDS activists in South Africa have given the government a four-month ultimatum to implement a treatment plan and provide AIDS drugs or face a civil disobedience campaign, a spokesperson said Wednesday. Treatment Action Campaign spokesperson Nathan Geffen said the plan, which TAC hoped to finalize by the start of December, would include giving antiretroviral treatment to everybody in the country unable to afford it.
"The TAC will start a campaign of non-violent civil disobedience [if the] government has not adopted an HIV/AIDS treatment plan that included antiretroviral therapy, by the end of February 2003," Geffen said. "This will include sit-ins, hunger strikes, the illegal importation of medicine and the illegal distribution of medicine," he said. Geffen said TAC originally planned to start the campaign Dec. 1, but after a meeting with South African Deputy President Jacob Zuma, decided to hold off until February.
"In our meeting with Deputy President Zuma, he stated that the government needed until February to adopt a treatment plan," Geffen said. However, TAC did not expect the government to be able to immediately treat large numbers of infected people, Geffen said. "There should be a gradual roll-out of the program. We want the government to have the capacity to treat 100,000 people in the public sector by March 2004," said Geffen.
In the last few months, the South African government has softened its stance against distributing nevirapine to HIV- positive pregnant women to reduce mother-to-baby transmission. In October, the government announced it was "actively engaged in challenges to be overcome to create the conditions that would make it feasible and effective to use antiretrovirals in the public health sector." "We are working to lower the cost of these drugs, at present too costly for universal access, and to strengthen the health system to ensure that the drugs are not used incorrectly in ways that can cause harm," the government said at the time.