|13 February 2003
AIDS activists to march on parliament
South Africa's AIDS activists are preparing to march on the opening of
parliament on Friday to call for a national treatment plan to provide anti-AIDS
drugs free to all those who need them. "We are hoping that this will not be
another march without results, we want to make the government realise that it is
about time. The process of researching and reviewing [a universal drug rollout]
has been going on for long enough," Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) march
spokeswoman, Nonkosi Khumalo, told IRIN.
According to TAC, AIDS advocacy groups have been left with no choice but protest
action after the government failed to sign a National Economic Development and
Labour Council (NEDLAC) agreement for a treatment and prevention plan last year.
A special HIV/AIDS task team consisting of business, government and civil
society representatives was created to draft a framework agreement for a
national treatment plan by 1 December 2002.
But adopting a treatment plan was not so simple, the government has countered.
"This [NEDLAC] is a very long process, you are dealing with a lot of social
partners and huge resources. It is impossible for government to set time
frames," Department of Labour spokesman Snuki Zikalala told IRIN. Elements of
the treatment proposal put forward by TAC had "serious implications for
government, including cost", the government said in a statement. "As government
we are still in the process of examining these issues. Therefore there is no
justification for a march," it added. The government could not promise the
roll-out of antiretroviral drugs to people living with HIV/AIDS (PWAs), without
adequate resources. "When we say we are going to provide the drugs, we must know
that the infrastructures are in place," Zikalala added.
"There is merit in that argument, you certainly need to look at infrastructure.
But it is limited in that there is more infrastructure and capacity in the
public health system than is currently being given credit for," Dr Steve
Andrews, an executive member of the South African HIV Clinicians Society, told
IRIN. But for PWAs this "was a very real emergency" and a faster roll-out was
critical, he added. Andrews suggested a compromise could be reached somewhere in
the middle of both arguments. While it would not be feasible to immediately
provide drugs to every person living with HIV/AIDS in the country, it would be a
crime not to "try and expedite" their provision. "The government is starting to
make strides and we must applaud them, but these strides must be put to the top
of the agenda," Andrews added. (IRIN)