South African AIDS Advocate Achmat Begins Antiretroviral Drug Treatment; TAC Rolls Out AIDS Drug Program
South Africa's leading AIDS advocate Zackie Achmat yesterday announced that he has started taking antiretroviral drugs, which he had previously refused to do until the government committed to a national treatment plan, AFP/Yahoo! News reports (AFP/Yahoo! News, 9/8). Achmat, chair of the Cape Town, South Africa-based HIV/AIDS treatment advocacy group Treatment Action Campaign, was diagnosed with HIV in 1990 and developed AIDS in 1997 (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 4/14). Achmat's decision to take the drugs follows the South African government's announcement on Friday that the first phase of a national antitretroviral treatment plan will be launched by 2004 (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 9/8). TAC had lead a campaign of civil disobedience to push for the universal provision of antiretroviral drugs (AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 9/8). Achmat said that the organization had made the decision for him to take antiretroviral drugs at a conference last month, adding, "We all recognize that the process [the] government has committed to is irreversible. It's not a question of if, but when and how." Achmat is taking a generic drug imported from India called Triomune, which is a combination of stavudine, lamivudine and nevirapine. The drug costs $39 per month, according to AFP/Yahoo! News (AFP/Yahoo! News, 9/8).
TAC Launches Drug Program
TAC yesterday announced the launch of an antiretroviral drug treatment program that the group hopes will be able to treat 1,000 people by the end of 2004, Reuters reports. While the program will reach a very small percentage of the country's 4.5 million HIV-positive people, TAC hopes to use the program to put pressure on the government and local companies to step up their treatment programs, according to Reuters. The TAC Treatment Project, a new not-for-profit group, will oversee the rollout, which will start by providing drugs to 50 people, including 25 TAC members and 25 members of the general public. The group hopes to expand the project if it has the necessary funding. "We have a duty to treat as many of these people as possible. In order to ensure that the public sector program is a success, and that the HIV/AIDS pandemic does not destroy more of our families and communities ... organized business, civil society and private health care providers have to relieve some of the burden from the public health care system," Vuyiseka Dubula, chair of the Treatment Project, said (Reuters, 9/8).