South Africa AIDS Drug Campaign Grows, Targets Minister
March 26, 2003
South African AIDS activist and Treatment Action Campaign head Zackie Achmat led a group of 50 demonstrators to a public meeting at the Holiday Inn in Cape Town, with calls for the resignation of Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang.Adapted from:
Tuesday's protest is the latest in a civil disobedience campaign launched on Thursday with the filing of culpable homicide charges against the health minister and Trade Minister Alec Erwin.
About 200 activists picketed outside the hotel where Tshabalala-Msimang was scheduled to address a meeting regarding the state of the country's public health system. As soon as she rose to give her speech, Achmat and a few others ran to the front and demanded to read a speech. A short exchange followed during which Achmat called the minister a "murderer" while others shouted "shut up Manto."
AIDS activists say some 600 people die of HIV/AIDS daily in South Africa, where over 4.5 million people are HIV-positive. That is nearly a tenth of those infected worldwide and more than any other country. Most of these deaths could be avoided or delayed if antiretroviral drugs were available at state hospitals, activists say.
The minister gave her speech later that day with no mention of the disruption. But a government statement issued later noted the "personally abusive language used." It continued, "The TAC's campaign is neither necessary nor helpful... We can make greater progress as a nation if we all lend a hand in partnership against AIDS. Our energies should be spent fighting AIDS, not one another," it said.
The government has balked at providing antiretroviral drugs, saying the drugs are too expensive and toxic. It reiterated on Tuesday that it is evaluating the cost of a state-funded antiretroviral program.
03.25.03; Gershwin Wanneburg