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S.African AIDS Activists Attack Healthcare Divide


JOHANNESBURG - South African AIDS pressure group Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) opened a new front in the battle for universal AIDS treatment on Wednesday, calling for an end to inequity between public and private healthcare systems.

The move follows TAC's successful campaign last year to persuade the government to begin providing anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs to the poorest South Africans. An estimated five million people in the country live with the AIDS virus.

TAC national treasurer Mark Heywood said South Africa's former apartheid system lived on in the healthcare sector, with a small number of elite private hospitals caring mainly for wealthy whites, while overburdened public hospitals struggle to treat the majority of black South Africans.

"In the next few weeks we will launch a visible campaign for what we will call a people's health service for a people's anti-retroviral program," Heywood told journalists and visiting U.S. students.

"It will involve putting forward a new vision of the health service...The private hospital sector is going to be targeted because we believe they are too expensive."

The TAC, which has been nominated for the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize, has emerged as a powerful grassroots movement capable of exerting significant pressure on both government and industry.

Heywood said details of its new campaign would be fleshed out by its national committee at the end of January.

Private laboratories which test patients for HIV/AIDS and charge up to 1,000 rand ($140) a time would be come under particular pressure through lawsuits and protests, he said. The TAC will also scrutinize drug companies that try to stop local companies producing cheaper generic versions of ARVs, and will criticize the government's drug roll-out if it does not move swiftly enough.

"We don't feel there is enough urgency, enough political leadership or determination behind this plan," Heywood added.

"The announcement was August is now January 2004 and almost no facilities yet have access to the medicines. People continue to die in very large numbers," he said.

President Thabo Mbeki, who has questioned the link between HIV and AIDS, has been criticized for his lackluster response to the epidemic, while his health minister has said the drugs were unproven, potentially toxic and too expensive.


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Information in this article was accurate in January 14, 2004. The state of the art may have changed since the publication date. This material is designed to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between you and your doctor. Always discuss treatment options with a doctor who specializes in treating HIV.