Treatment Action Campaign Holds International Day of Protest To Demand Free Antiretroviral Drugs in South Africa
The South African AIDS advocacy group Treatment Action Campaign yesterday held an international day of protest against the South African government's handling of the AIDS epidemic, demanding that the government improve access to antiretroviral drugs, the Washington Post reports (Fernandez, Washington Post, 4/25). In the South African capital Pretoria, an estimated 150 TAC members "demonstrated noisily" outside of the Department of Health (South African Press Association, 4/24). In Cape Town, approximately 20 TAC protestors were arrested and later released for trespassing following a sit-in at the Department of Trade and Industry's regional office. An additional 200 people who were not able to get into the building continued the protest outside (South African Press Association, 4/24). The protests were held without police permission as part of TAC's civil disobedience campaign (South African Press Association, 4/24). The campaign, which started last month, marks the first time in Africa that HIV/AIDS patients are breaking the law in large numbers to demand treatment. At the start of the campaign last month, the group filed charges of manslaughter against South African Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang and Trade Minister Alec Erwin over not providing sufficient treatment for people with HIV (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 3/26).
In Washington, D.C., yesterday, an estimated 200 protestors put 600 pairs of shoes outside of the South African embassy to symbolize the number of people that die from AIDS-related causes each day in South Africa. The demonstration, organized by Africa Action, Health GAP, ACT UP/New York and ACT UP/Philadelphia in association with TAC, was part of a nationwide protests in the United States. Acting South African Ambassador Thandabantu Nhlapo accepted a statement from the protestors demanding that the government act to prevent and treat the disease and invited several protestors into the embassy for a meeting to discuss their complaints (Washington Post, 4/24). Protests were also held in Japan, Kenya, the Netherlands, Belgium, Canada, Cote d'Ivoire, Finland, France, Germany, Venezuela, Jamaica and the Caribbean region, Namibia, Nigeria, Sri Lanka, Tanzania and Uganda, according to a TAC release (TAC release, 4/24). According to South Africa's Cape Times, yesterday's protests were the last of the planned illegal gatherings organized as part of the group's civil disobedience campaign. However, TAC said that the campaign will resume in two months if the government fails to set up an antiretroviral treatment program (Smetherham, Cape Times, 4/24).