South Africa: HIV-Infected Activist Abandons Pledge Not to Take AIDS Drugs Until They Are Widely Available
August 5, 2003
South Africa's preeminent AIDS activist will abandon his pledge of refusing lifesaving AIDS medicines, ending an unsuccessful attempt to force the government to provide the medicine for HIV-infected people.
Zackie Achmat, who has been HIV-positive for years, accused South Africa's leadership of not caring about the lives of those infected with HIV. "I am not going to die because they want us to die," Achmat, head of the Treatment Action Campaign, told a cheering crowd outside an AIDS conference in Durban.
Nathan Geffen, a TAC spokesperson, said Achmat will begin taking generic versions of AIDS drugs after receiving appropriate medical testing. "We need Zackie to live through this and not become a victim of the government's denialism and arrogance," said Geffen.
By refusing to take the medicine until it was provided to poor South Africans, Achmat attracted worldwide attention to the often criticized AIDS policy of Thabo Mbeki's government. Many see his sacrifice as the country's second liberation struggle, and his efforts caught the attention of former President Nelson Mandela, who, in a show of solidarity, visited Achmat last year.
Achmat's decision came as TAC announced a second wave of civil disobedience. TAC is demanding the resumption of negotiations between the government, business and civil society on establishing a cohesive national AIDS policy.
Dr. Kgosi Letlape, chair of the South African Medical Association, praised Achmat's decision and hopes his improvement will make him an example of the drugs' effectiveness. "It is high time that South Africans see that these drugs are lifesavers," said Letlape. Marta Darder, coordinator of Doctors Without Borders' access to essential medicines campaign, especially welcomed Achmat's choice to take generic drugs, a symbolic nod to efforts to reduce the cost of the medicines.
08.05.03; Elliott Sylvester
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This article was provided by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update. Visit the CDC's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.