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
"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 2003...it 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.