As government officials took to podiums nationwide to deliver World AIDS Day speeches, HIV activists held a much quieter gathering in Johannesburg to reflect on 10 years of antiretroviral (ARV) treatment.
About 150 activists, judges, doctors, researchers and Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) members gathered in Johannesburg to reflect on 10 years of treatment – and the estimated 2.5 million lives that it saved, according to TAC.
When Sharon Ekambaram joined the TAC in 1999, treatment was still five years away. As she and others marched and picketed for treatment, she – like many – would watch friends die.
Now a long-time activist and head of Medicines Sans Frontières South Africa’s programme department, Ekambaram says South Africa has major gains to celebrate – but also a long way to go.
“Today, we have a national strategic plan and 2. 5 million people on treatment,” she told OurHealth. “TAC has united different civil society organisations to challenge government for better health care because our biggest struggle now is our failing health system.”
“We need a system that will ensure people get their drugs every month and that we don’t have corruption,” she added.
The TAC publicly boycotted national World AIDS Day festivities alleging that the Free State celebration would cost “millions.” It is the second year in a row the organisation has abstained from government celebrations.
“As the TAC, we are totally opposed to our government spending millions of rands on high profile events every World AIDS Day, often in provinces where the challenges are immense,” said TAC National General Secretary Anele Yawa. “These events are yet another form of fruitless and wasteful expenditure of the resources that are scarce.”[quote float=”right”]”We regard it as a pledge against complacency…when hundreds of thousands still die”
National Department of Health spokesperson Joe Maila called TAC’s estimations of alleged government spending on World AIDS Day celebrations an unfortunate and extreme exaggeration.
He however added that the department was not in a position to disclose the exact amount of money spent on World AIDS Day celebrations set to take place in Welkom, Free State.
The alternate World AIDS Day event in Johannesburg was organised by the TAC and marked the conclusion of a month-long fundraising campaign. Health-e News broke news of the financial crisis facing the country’s largest membership-based HIV organisation in September when it was announced that the TAC had just one-third of its 2015 budget.
Yesterday, the TAC released a statement thanking South African and international donors for the influx of financial donations and high profile messages of support.
“We regard this as a vote of confidence in TAC,” said the organisation in a statement. “We see it as an instruction to continue the battle but much more importantly, we regard it as a pledge against complacency…when hundreds of thousands still die.”
TAC member Sibongile Mlotshwa, who was diagnosed with HIV in 2002, credits TAC with saving her life.
“I thought I was going die,” Mlotshwa said. “I never thought that I would live this long until I joined TAC in 2003 and that is where I gained the strength and hope that we will win this struggle and that I would survive.”
After campaigning by TAC and others, South Africa introduced public sector HIV treatment in 2004. By September, Mlotshwa was on the life-saving treatment.
“TAC changed my life, now I’m healthy and alive,” she told OurHealth.