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International News

South Africa AIDS Activists Suspend Anti-Government Protests

April 30, 2003

On Tuesday, the South African AIDS activist group Treatment Action Campaign suspended a nationwide civil disobedience campaign pending a meeting of the National AIDS Council. At the meeting on May 17, TAC hopes the government will agree to provide AIDS drugs for millions of infected people.

"We are suspending the campaign in the interest of ensuring the fullest opportunity for government to prove its good faith," said TAC's executive committee. "However, should we encounter further unjustifiable delays or deceits, we will continue with all existing campaigns to get agreement on a national plan that saves lives by preventing HIV infection and treating people with AIDS."

South Africa has the highest number of people living with HIV in the world, but the government has refused to provide life-prolonging antiretroviral drugs through the public health system, saying they are too expensive and toxic. TAC members say the policy causes 600 AIDS deaths a day in a country with 4.7 million HIV infections. The organization mounted a campaign to force a change and last month began occupying offices, blocking traffic and protesting against officials. More than 100 activists have been arrested in the campaign, which includes the filing of culpable homicide charges against Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang and Trade Minister Alec Erwin.

While cabinet ministers have rejected calls for a swift change in South Africa's AIDS policies, TAC said Deputy President Jacob Zuma, who heads the National AIDS Council, had agreed that next month's meeting would include discussion of its demands for state-funded AIDS drugs. TAC added that it proposed that any conclusions reached at the meeting would be put to the government as "urgent recommendations" that should be considered and adopted within three weeks. "The outcomes must include using the legal powers of the government to reduce the prices of medicines," TAC said.

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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.
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