Vuyiseka Dubula is no shrinking violet. She’€™s not someone who easily jumps on a soapbox and rattles off a number of statements. But when she speaks, people tend to listen, even if it was a bit of battle to get them do so at first.

‘€œSome relationships were odd at the starts. Some of the political and union leaders, and even donors, saw us as children. I soon realised I needed to speak with authority and present myself as a leader. I knew I couldn’€™t change them, but I could package my message in a different way,’€ says Dubula, sitting in the Treatment Action Campaign Cape Town office.

Without hesitating for a second when recalling dates or places or details, the TAC’€™s General Secretary shares how she came to find herself in her current position.

Diagnosed at a clinic in Green Point at 22, Dubula headed for Khayelitsha after a nurse told her she had ‘€œheard a rumour they had treatment’€.

‘€œWhen I got there it was the MSF (Medecins Sans Frontieres) clinic, a two roomed bungalow at the time,’€ she recalls.

It took the young woman two months to ‘€œwork through’€ her diagnosis and she credits her fellow TAC activists with carrying her through tough times. ‘€œI saw young people who were not drowning in misery, but people who had empowered themselves, I wanted to know more,’€ she recalls.

Dubula was soon starting a TAC branch in her Phillipi backyard. It grew from five people to a fully-fledged community branch.

Dubula worked her way through various levels at TAC, but always remained involved in treatment literacy. ‘€œMy passion has always been treatment literacy, maybe it was my comfort zone,’€ she smiles.

Seven years after joining the TAC Dubula was elected to the General Secretary job, a position she was elected to again at the group’€™s recent Congress in Johannesburg.

‘€œIt’€™s a challenging position, for me a young person and as a woman,’€ says Dubula, who has been instrumental in establishing a leadership programme within TAC.

She also believes that TAC must be led by a collective leadership where they learn from each other and manage the challenges together.

‘€œI feel very proud that we are able to set the foundation for the next generation of leaders,’€ she adds.

Dubula describes health minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi as ‘€œvery inspirational’€.

‘€œHe faces very serious challenges, especially at provincial level and the challenge for us as the TAC is how we help and support without being co-opted into government,’€ she says.

Looking back, she remembers being ‘€œvery motivated’€ during the reign of former health minister Dr Manto Tshabalala-Msimang and President Thabo Mbeki.

‘€œI never felt we weren’€™t going to win, they motivated us to do so much, but seeing friends and relatives die during this time, evoked a deep anger in us.

‘€œI think what also helped at the time was that we knew our voices were being heard beyond our borders, the international community really supported us.

‘€œBut seeing people you work with so closely every day die, it confronts you with the fact that you could also die and it made me feel angry and powerless. These were some of my lowest moments,’€ says Dubula. ‘€œI knew if we did not accelerate our efforts I would be next. I understood that we should be seeing people dying of a accidents, not of a manageable, chronic disease.’€

Dubula believes the next challenge is resources, human and financial.

‘€œWe need billions. Government has the tools and information, but we need to think about how we all mobilise the resources we have,’€ she says.

Resolutions took by the TAC at its recent Congress covered a range of issues.

Under prevention, treatment, care and support, the TAC committed to intensifying its work in supporting the implementation of the National Strategic Plan (NSP), with an emphasis on Prevention of Mother to Child transmission, male circumcision, the TB and HIV link and scaling up of treatment.

Within gender-based violence, the meeting resolved to redouble efforts to combat gender- based violence through community-based work and advocacy, to formalise its work with men and to strengthen its lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex sector.

Focusing on the national, provincial and district AIDS councils, the Congress examined ways of mobilising parties such as traditional healers, labourers and leaders to participate effectively in these bodies. It resolved to use local governments as platforms to push for greater commitment from local politicians to the NSP. The Congress also committed to lead the process of formulating a new NSP to follow on the current one.

On strengthening the health system, the National Health Insurance featured prominently, with TAC committing to a high level of engagement with the planning process ‘€œsuch that concerns regarding funding, management issues, capacity and possible inappropriate private sector user charges (fees) could be addressed’€.

The congress also committed to resolve shortages in health sector workers by calling for the re-opening of colleges and incorporating community health care workers into the system.

The support activist organisations in Zimbabwe and Swaziland would continue as well as the sharing of treatment literacy expertise across the continent and lobbying globally for political will and commitment of resources to address HIV/AIDS challenges.

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