HARARE, ZIMBABWE— AIDS activists in Zimbabwe are demanding the government account for millions of dollars it is raising through an AIDS-related tax. The activists defied police orders and marched to a government agency they accuse of corruption.
Hundreds of activists dressed in T-shirts with the words “HIV Positive” marched to the Harare offices of Zimbabwe’s National AIDS Council, a government body managing the three-percent AIDS levy collected from all workers.
An HIV-positive man in his 40s, Douglas Muzanenhamo, said he joined the march to protest a lack of anti-retroviral drugs, crucial for prolonging the life of HIV carriers.
“We have told them [the government] to provide us with ARVs for a long time. So they have failed to give us our monthly supplies for ARVs," said Muzanenhamo. "So we have decided to come here to tell them that we need our drugs. They go to the press and say there ARVs are available, but if you go to the pharmacies and clinics, they are not available. So we have decided to come.”
Tax for AIDS tratement, prevention
Zimbabwe is one of the countries most heavily affected by AIDS, although the rate of HIV prevalence has dropped in recent years.
In 1999, the nation became the first in Africa to introduce a tax meant to raise money for AIDS treatment and prevention programs. But the patients say nothing is reaching them now.
Police said Tuesday they would not sanction the demonstration, but the activists refused to give in.
Protester Spiwe Chabikwa traveled from the city of Bulawayo for the demonstration, knowing she risked being arrested or assaulted by the police.
Protest for accountability
It is our right to demonstrate. The demonstration is not against the government, just against corruption," said Chabikwa. "Even some people in the police force are HIV-positive, so we are doing this for the entire nation. Everyone is affected; the AIDS levy is paid by everyone whether HIV-positive or not."
Police maintained their distance as the activists marched and petitioned the National AIDS Council. In an interview, council director Tapiwa Magure said the levy is not being abused.
"We are up to date with our audits. There are tight controls, so whoever wants to demonstrate must come to use. All I am saying is, we are more than ready to explain everything," said Tapiwa.
He might be ready to explain, but the activists are more interested in getting access to anti-retroviral drugs. The activist group Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights has petitioned the National AIDS Council demanding that the agency release information related to how the AIDS levy is being administered.