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International News

South African AIDS Activists Get Aggressive

March 20, 2003

The AIDS activist group Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) is about to take a dramatic step to push the South African government to provide AIDS drugs in public hospitals and clinics: mass civil disobedience. The protest action, to begin this week and last for seven days, is believed to be the first time in Africa that AIDS patients will have broken the law en masse to demand treatment.

TAC has so far kept its protest plan secret, except to say it will be nonviolent. In addition to perhaps thousands of South Africans who will carry out vigils and protests, the group expects 600 people to risk arrest, symbolizing the estimated number of people who die of AIDS every day in South Africa.

TAC accuses the government of delaying and obstructing the provision of antiretrovirals in the public sector, a charge the government denies. The group says it has exhausted other tactics, from working with the government to mass marches. Now, TAC leader and co-founder Zackie Achmat says nonviolent "civil disobedience is the only means we have of shaming the government and bringing home the sense of urgency."

The South African government insists that TAC's intensified pressure is misguided. A task team is in the final stages of costing out antiretroviral treatment, and while some cabinet ministers remain skeptical about the drug's utility, other officials predicted that the government will soon announce a plan to provide the drugs.

Relations between the government and many AIDS activists have been strained by AIDS dissidents. South African President Thabo Mbeki began in 2000 to publicly doubt whether HIV causes AIDS and whether AIDS drugs are too toxic. In April, the cabinet announced that it accepts the premise that HIV causes AIDS and that antiretroviral drugs can help those who contract it. But the government has yet to issue a concrete plan.

Back to other CDC news for March 20, 2003

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Adapted from:
Wall Street Journal
03.20.03; Mark Schoofs

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
See Also
More on HIV Treatment in South Africa