Editorials and Commentary
In South Africa, a Hero Measured by the Advance of a Deadly Disease
January 17, 2003
"... [Zackie] Achmat, 40, is South Africa's most prominent AIDS activist, and chairman of the Treatment Action Campaign. He found out that he was HIV positive in 1990, and has had AIDS since 1997. He can afford antiretroviral drugs, but in 1998 he vowed not to take them until everyone in South Africa could. That day is inching closer, largely due to the work of the campaign. For Mr. Achmat, it may not arrive soon enough.Adapted from:
"... President Thabo Mbeki and some of his aides have questioned HIV's role in AIDS, minimized South Africa's problem and tried to cut the AIDS budget. Government officials have accused those promoting AIDS treatment of conspiring to slander and poison black people. While constant criticism and the exploding AIDS epidemic have led Mr. Mbeki to mute his views, his government is a long way from mounting the energetic assault on AIDS that is possible and necessary in South Africa.
"... The government is being dragged into saving its people, in no small measure because of the Treatment Action Campaign, which is by all accounts the largest and most effective AIDS group in the third world. The campaign can mobilize thousands of people for protests and has hundreds of activists who speak about AIDS treatment to labor and civic groups. ...
"The campaign has also used South Africa's progressive new Constitution to advantage. It sued the government to force it to provide HIV-positive mothers with nevirapine, which may save half the babies born with HIV. Today South Africa has the world's largest program to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV, although some provincial governments are still resisting. Recently, government, business, labor and civic organizations negotiated an AIDS plan that includes treatment in South Africa's public health system, although the government has still not signed on. If it does, says Mr. Achmat, he will take his pills.
"[Former President Nelson] Mandela is one reason the government is changing. At first reluctant to challenge Mr. Mbeki, his protégé, and divide his party, Mr. Mandela is now photographed wearing a T-shirt that says 'HIV Positive,' the campaign's trademark. ...
"... 'Almost everyone I meet tells me, "take your medicine," but also says this has made us think,' says Mr. Achmat. "The country is realizing that people can actually buy life, and that this is unacceptable.'"
New York Times
01.13.03; Tina Rosenberg