The UN General Assembly is holding a special session on HIV/AIDS from May 31st to June 2nd and plans to review progress made in fighting the pandemic. Besides government and health officials, many NGOs have been invited to attend by their governments. But the Mbeki administration did not invite two of the most prominent and outspoken AIDS activist groups in South Africa, thus blocking them from attending.
The Treatment Action Campaign and the AIDS Law Project have been at the forefront of the legal battles to bring anti-retroviral drugs to South Africa. Mark Heywood is with the AIDS Law Project. From Johannesburg, he spoke to English to Africa reporter Joe De Capua about not being invited to the UN session in New York.
“The AIDS Law project and the TAC were both shocked to have been blocked by the South African government from attending the UN special session on AIDS. As we’ve said, we consider it really to be an act of intolerance, but also anti-democratic. Because the reason the government has objected to our participation is because they do not like what we have to say in our criticism of what we believe [are] the South African government’s failures to contain the HIV epidemic and to extend treatment to people with AIDS. We’re very, very unhappy about it and we’ve made our unhappiness known to our government. We have made it known to the United Nations and indeed around the world.”
Heywood admits that the TAC and ALP have frequently butted heads with the Mbeki administration over AIDS policies. “Yes, it is safe to say. I mean the TAC has been in major conflicts with the government over its policy on treatment of people with HIV, over the issue of preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV. And the AIDS Law Project has been closely associated with those criticisms.”
Heywood says it is not the intent of the groups to vilify President Mbeki or the minister of health. The groups have requested that the government reverse its decision and they have the support of hundreds of civil society and faith-based groups.