South African Health Minister Launches Faith-Based AIDS Initiative, Says AIDS Is ‘God’s Way of Challenging’ South Africa
South African Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang on Monday told religious leaders at the launch of a new faith-based AIDS initiative in Johannesburg that AIDS could be an "opportunity provided by God for South Africa to care for its people," London's Guardian reports (Guardian, 4/1). The new initiative, "Faith in Action -- a United Response to HIV/AIDS," seeks to stop the spread of the disease through "counseling and dissemination of information," the South African Press Association reports (South African Press Association, 3/31). "Perhaps HIV and AIDS is God's way of challenging us to care for our people, to support the dying and to appreciate the gift of life," Tshabalala-Msimang said, adding that the crisis "could also be a God-given opportunity for moral and spiritual growth, a time to review our assumptions about sin and morality" (Golan, Associated Press, 3/31). Tshabalala-Msimang said that religious leaders are in an ideal position to disseminate information about the disease, adding that faith-based organizations "often have extensive networks of people, institutions and infrastructures, especially in rural areas where few other institutions exist" (South African Press Association, 3/31). AIDS advocates have personally blamed Tshabalala-Msimang for failing to provide antiretroviral drugs for the general public, according to the Associated Press (Associated Press, 3/31). Members of the HIV/AIDS treatment advocacy group Treatment Action Campaign last month filed charges of manslaughter against her for failing to provide AIDS drugs and Trade Minister Alec Erwin for "blocking" the production of those drugs in South Africa. The charges were filed in conjunction with a week of nonviolent civil disobedience in the country organized by TAC to urge the government to provide free HIV/AIDS drugs in public hospitals and clinics. The protest marked the first time in Africa that HIV/AIDS patients have broken the law en masse to demand treatment (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 3/21). The attorney general's office is expected to rule this week on whether he will allow the ministers to be charged in court, the Associated Press reports (Associated Press, 3/31).
TAC Organizes Additional Protests
About 500 AIDS advocates on Monday marched to a police station in Durban, South Africa, to lodge a complaint over alleged police brutality during a protest last month, Reuters reports. TAC supporters claim that police punched and kicked protesters and used tear gas and a water cannon when the advocates marched to press charges against the health and trade ministers. The advocates on Monday refused to move until they had lodged a letter of complaint. Police eventually allowed the group to lodge the complaint, TAC spokesperson Mark Heywood said (Reuters, 3/31). Around 300 people, many wearing t-shirts saying "Dying for Treatment," yesterday attended the burial of Kebareng Moyeketsi, a woman who died last week of an AIDS-related illness. Moyeketsi, a 32-year-old single mother, was the first of the TAC advocates participating in the civil disobedience campaign to die. Heywood said that TAC plans to march to the offices of the Human Rights Commission and the Commission for Gender Equality to demand an investigation into Moyeketsi's death. "We believe her death is another example of preventable deaths. The Human Rights Commission must make a public statement on its views on peoples' right to treatment," he said (Chege, Reuters, 4/1). Zackie Achmat, the "outspoken" HIV-positive leader of TAC who is refusing to take antiretroviral drugs until the government provides them to the general public, said he is sick of "begging, cajoling, charming and arguing before goverment" while his friends and colleagues die of AIDS-related illnesses. "I am taking vitamins, antidepressants, TB prophylactics and nutrients ... but I need antiretrovirals now," Achmat said, adding that TAC will "intensify" their fight with the government, according to the AP/Nando Times (Sylvester, AP/Nando Times, 4/1).