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Treatment Action Campaign reaches the knife-edge, 18 November

Speakers: Vuyiseka Dubula, Faith ka-Manzi and Mzamo Zondi
Date: Tuesday 18 November, 2014
Time: 12:30-15:00 (note new end time)
Venue: CCS Seminar Room 602, 6th Floor, MTB Tower, Howard College, UKZN

The lives of millions of South Africans living with HIV were spared by the tireless campaigning of the Treatment Action Campaign. Prior to TAC's formation in 1998 and victory in acquiring generic medicines in 2004, access to anti-retrovirals were only available to the wealthy with generous medical aids. The result was a rise in life expectancy from 52 in 2004, to 62 today. With TAC facing financial crisis, it is vital to assess its role in our society's health system and more general civil society advocacy leadership. Can the historic breakthroughs that came from AIDS activism be updated renewed - or will TAC become a casualty of donor fatigue and newer funding whims?

Vuyiseka Dubula is the former General Secretary of TAC, and now works with Sonke Gender Justice while pursuing her doctoral studies at CCS. Earlier this year, she filmed "Our struggle is not over" as a TEDx talk at Euston. Faith ka-Manzi, a CCS staffer, has authored the "Faith's diaries" column about AIDS treatment at The Africa Report. Mzamo Zondi is the TAC regional coordinator in Durban.


Academics for TAC
BROOK K BAKER & YOUSUF VAWDA (South Africa) 14 November 2014

South Africans have many people to thank for their scaled-up ability to access free antiretroviral treatment. Foremost among them is the Treatment Action Campaign, which has fought tirelessly for over a decade and a half to ensure that HIV-positive people in poor countries receive the same standard of treatment and care as those in the developed world. By PROFESSOR BROOK K BAKER and PROFESSOR YOUSUF VAWDA.

For legal academics who want to support social movements pursuing rights-based global health justice and a scaled-up up response to the global HIV/Aids pandemic, there has been no organisation more instrumental to those goals than the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC). From organising the march for universal access to treatment at the 2000 International Aids Conference in Durban, to the 2000-2001 resistance to drug companies' attacks on South Africa's Medicines and Related Substances Control Act designed to ease access to more affordable medicines, to successful litigation in the Constitutional Court demanding that the denialist government expand its prevention-of-mother-to-child transmission programme, to the Competition Commission cases seeking lower prices on medicines and generic licences, and to demands that the government roll out a comprehensive strategy for treating and preventing HIV, TAC has made demands on powerful industries and a reluctant government to ensure that South Africa deploys all available tools to address the HIV/Aids crisis that threatened its post-apartheid transformation.

We have been fortunate to have been involved with TAC in some of its campaigns, including the birth of its current, bold Fix the Patent Laws campaign that we helped to support in an IP and Access to Medicines course we have taught at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. We have watched it grow locally and connect regionally and internationally with other Aids activist organisations to weave a web of global actors campaigning for donor commitments and fully-capacitated national responses to an HIV/Aids crisis ignored in the 1990s while the viral plague multiplied, needlessly infecting and killing millions of Africans. In the 2000s we watched TAC wage strategic battles in court, in Parliament, and before administrative agencies at the same time that it empowered grassroots activities and communities through treatment literacy and co-ordinated campaigns for quality service provision.

Far from being a merely populist organisation, a hallmark of the work that TAC has been doing is its rigorous and evidence-based approach to the challenges presented by the HIV/Aids pandemic.

TAC alerted a global movement to the rapacious profiteering of multinational pharmaceutical companies that would rather make excessive profits off high-price sales to the rich than deliver life-saving antiretroviral medicines to the poor. It pointed attention at the malign influence of the US and European governments attempts to extend pharmaceutical hegemony at the same time that they squeezed the coffers of global health aid. But perhaps most inspirationally, we watched TAC change a government's policy and a population's ambition to beat back the scourge of HIV and to build a health system and vibrant civil society that could deliver the health rights that South Africans fought so hard to achieve.

TAC is facing a financial crisis that is not of its own doing but precipitated by shortsighted and narrow-minded donors who think that a job half-done is good enough. Nearly 3.5 million people living with HIV in South Africa are still waiting in line for life saving treatment. Poor service delivery, violence against women, and stigma and discrimination still slow the national response. Bureaucrats dawdle and political elites focus on their own machinations unless powerful social movements like those led by TAC can continue to wage smart strategic campaigns to go all the way to secure human rights and meet health needs.

We urge other academics, in South Africa and globally, to support the Treatment Action Campaign and its vital work with both your financial and intellectual assets. The TAC is the heart of the international Aids movement – we cannot sit by and let that heartbeat still. DM

Professor Brook K Baker, from the Northeastern U. School of Law, is an Honorary Research Fellow University of KwaZulu-Natal. Professor Yousuf Vawda is head of Public Law, School of Law, University of KwaZulu-Natal.

Future of Treatment Action Campaign Debated at Seminar
Melissa Mungroo

From left: Ms Vuyiseka Dubula, Ms Faith ka-Manzi, Mr Mzamo Zondi.

The Centre for Civil Society (CCS), housed within the College of Humanities, recently hosted a seminar titled: “Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) Reaches the Knife-Edge”.

Presenters at the seminar were former General Secretary of TAC, Ms Vuyiseka Dubula; CCS staffer, Ms Faith ka-Manzi and TAC regional Co-ordinator for Durban, Mr Mzamo Zondi.

The trio said the lives of millions of South Africans living with HIV had been saved because of the tireless campaigning of TAC over the years.

Prior to the organisation’s formation in 1998 and the breakthrough in acquiring generic medicines in 2004, anti-retrovirals (ARVs) were mainly only available to the wealthy. Access to ARVs had led to a rise in life expectancy in South Africa from 52 in 2004 to 62 today.

The speakers said TAC was facing a financial crisis and they believed it was vital to assess its role in society’s health system and civil society advocacy leadership.

Dubula asked whether historic breakthroughs achieved because of AIDS activism would be updated and renewed or would the TAC become a casualty of donor fatigue and recent funding whims?

‘We need to find resources from within our own movements, both nationally and internationally, to fund social justice activism, breaking our dependence on donor governments. The reliance on donor funding has been both a blessing and a curse. While it has provided the resources to tackle important issues, it has also made civil society organisations vulnerable to the accusation that they are imposing foreign ideas and agendas on local populations.

‘No matter how absurd these claims, they have been damaging in the war of ideas in which human rights are a critical concept. There are a number of interesting alternatives emerging now, including raising independent domestic resources for difficult activism from Africa’s new wealthy billionaires and from membership associations,’ said Dubula.

Addressing the audience, Zondi said: ‘Today the future of the TAC is under threat. This means AIDS activism is under threat. This means the South African AIDS response is under threat. Therefore we must speak in the context of a humanitarian crisis when we respond to the HIV epidemic in South Africa.

‘KwaZulu-Natal is the hardest hit by the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The province remains the epicentre with an HIV prevalence of 16.9% and it is even higher among women of reproductive age where the prevalence is 27.9%. The message we must convey to all the people of KwaZulu-Natal and South Africa and international partners is that whilst we have made substantial progress, we cannot afford to be complacent.’

Zondi believes that activism is needed to monitor and hold to account those responsible for implementing policies. ‘We need to ensure that there is transparency because corruption at all levels of government is killing poor people in our country.’

Stemming from her own personal struggle and dealing with the country’s health system, ka-Manzi praised the efforts of activists and the TAC but - within the context of proper functioning transparent health systems - criticised the government for failing its needy citizens. She tackled the “missing link” at ARV dispensing clinics for the poor and recounted how waiting in long queues could dishearten the sick and poor even further.

‘My complaint is that because of the lack of manpower, the procedure being followed now is to dish out ARVs and not to look after the medical welfare of the patients. However, I must commend the health workers in ARV clinics who go out of their way to serve us regardless of the challenges they themselves are confronted with.

‘They are faced with people who default both in taking ARVs and TB medication. It must be so disheartening for them to have seen a patient recovering then reverting back to a weak immunity.’

The audience became involved in the debate raising issues of concern about the country’s health system.

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