South African AIDS Advocates Plan ‘Mass Civil Disobedience’ To Urge Government To Provide HIV/AIDS Drugs
The Cape Town, South Africa-based HIV/AIDS treatment advocacy group Treatment Action Campaign has said that it will begin, along with other HIV/AIDS advocacy groups, a week of nonviolent "mass civil disobedience" in the country to urge the government to provide HIV/AIDS drugs in public hospitals and clinics, the Wall Street Journal reports. The "protest action" will mark the first time in Africa that HIV/AIDS patients have "broken the law en masse to demand treatment," according to the Journal (Schoofs, Wall Street Journal, 3/20). TAC hopes that the protest campaign, set to begin tomorrow on Human Rights Day, will influence the South African government to agree to a "framework" treatment and prevention plan that was worked out at a National Economic Development and Labor Council meeting last year (South African Press Association, 3/19). TAC had asked that discussion of such a framework be completed by last year's World AIDS Day, Dec. 1, 2002. In addition, the group in November 2002 said it would launch a nonviolent civil disobedience campaign if the government did not take action on a drug plan by the end of February (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 11/7/02). TAC expects that some 600 people will risk arrest, "symbolizing the number of people" who die of AIDS-related causes daily in South Africa, according to the Journal. Zackie Achmat, TAC co-chair and cofounder, said, "[C]ivil disobedience is the only means we have of shaming the government and bringing home the sense of urgency" (Wall Street Journal, 3/20).
Government officials yesterday said that representatives from both the health and finance ministries were "evaluating" the cost of a government-funded antiretroviral program, according to Reuters (Chege, Reuters, 3/19). Some government officials have said that TAC's "intensified pressure is misguided" because the team is in the "final stages" of "costing out" a drug program, and the government could announce a plan soon, the Journal reports. Government spokesperson Joel Netshitenzhe said, "There is no need for anyone to engage in a campaign of civil disobedience." But TAC Co-Chair Mark Heywood said that it is "impossible to take it on faith when the government says to just be patient" (Wall Street Journal, 3/20). Heywood added, "If the government calls us today (Wednesday) to arrange a meeting with NEDLAC we will call the demonstrations off" (South African Press Association, 3/19). The Congress of South African Trade Unions, "usually a political ally" of the country's ruling African National Congress party, said it would "consider taking an active part" in the protests if delays on a drug plan continue (South African Press Association, 3/19).