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South African Aids Activists Campaign for Better Care

  • Delia Robertson

In South Africa, a group called the Treatment Action Campaign has launched a campaign of illegal protests to demand greater government commitment to halt the spread of HIV/AIDS and better treatment for people with AIDS. The group has also called for the dismissal of the country's health minister.

The Treatment Action Campaign, or TAC, wants President Thabo Mbeki to dismiss Health Minister Manto Tshabala-Msimang, because it says she has failed to respond appropriately to the HIV/AIDS pandemic in South Africa.

The TAC says the minister has failed to ensure that the health services meet the government's own targets on the provision of AIDS medication and its commitments on other programs such as one aimed at preventing mother-to-child-transmission of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

The TAC is also demanding that the government immediately convene a national conference to formulate a plan to better respond to the pandemic and to halt what it says are 1,000 new HIV infections and 800 AIDS-related deaths each day.

The government says its HIV program is comprehensive - and includes prevention, counseling, testing and treatment. It says that, under the program, every person who needs treatment will receive it. Currently 160,000 people receive AIDS drugs at government health facilities, about 40 percent of the target.

At its weekly meeting the Cabinet resolved to work locally and internationally on improving understanding of its HIV/AIDS programs, and to address doubts that the government is committed to the fight against HIV/AIDS. Following the meeting, cabinet spokesman Themba Maseko told reporters that since 2001 South Africa has tripled its annual expenditure on HIV/AIDS.

"Public sector expenditure on HIV and AIDS has increased substantially over the years, as it grew from 30 million Rands [$5 million] in 1994, to over three billion [$500 million] in the [2005-2006] financial year," he said.

The TAC says it decided to launch its campaign because of what the organization describes as support for pseudo-science and charlatans by Tshabala-Msimang and Mr. Mbeki. As an example, TAC cited the government's backing of a man, Mathias Rath, who claims that the multivitamin supplement he sells is an effective treatment of AIDS. The TAC also said the increasing number of deaths of people between 20 and 50 years old from AIDS-related causes is another reason it decided to begin the campaign.

The TAC says it deliberately chose to stage protest action in several South African cities Thursday without first obtaining necessary permits. The organization said it expected its supporters to be arrested, but while police used pepper-spray in some areas to disperse crowds, there were no arrests.

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