Government Dithers While Lives are Lost 

16 April 2003

Government Dithers While Lives are Lost

One year ago, on April 17th 2002, the Treatment Action Campaign welcomed the announcement of the Cabinet's expanded policy on HIV/AIDS. In particular, we welcomed the recognition that HIV prevention strategies would be strengthened by a commitment to the right of all people to have HIV-related opportunistic infections treated, and a recognition of the efficacy of antiretroviral treatment.

We stated that we hoped that the new Cabinet policy would be implemented quickly to save lives.

One year later, approximately 200,000 more people in South Africa have died of HIV/AIDS, including many TAC leaders and volunteers. Government research has confirmed that HIV is the leading cause of death among women between the ages of 15 and 39, of maternal mortality, and is a major factor exacerbating poverty. We are therefore angry and disappointed that, despite these uncontroverted facts, in key areas of the promise of April 17th 2002 there has been no progress. These are:

  1. Treatment of Opportunistic Infections: Government promised that nobody would be refused treatment for HIV related illnesses, such as TB, shingles and thrush. However, health providers and users all over the country, continue to report that many essential medicines that prevent or treat opportunistic infections are not available, or are sometimes refused to patients. In addition, very few nurses or doctors have received training in the management of HIV. A training, implementation and monitoring plan would start to correct this.

  2. The commitment to a comprehensive response: Government insists that there is a treatment and prevention plan and has used this to justify five months of inaction at the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac). They point to the Strategic Plan (2000-2005). However, this 'plan' itself states it is

    "a broad national strategic plan designed to guide the country's response to the epidemic. It is not plan for the health sector specifically, but a statement of intent for the whole country, both within and outside government. It is recognised that no single sector, ministry, department or organisation is by itself responsible for addressing the HIV epidemic. It is envisaged that all government departments, organisations and stakeholders will use this document as a basis to develop their own strategic and operational plans so that all our initiatives as a country can be harmonised to maximise efficiency and effectiveness"

    If there is an operational plan we call on government to immediately provide it to the public.

  3. antiretroviral treatment: Whilst increasing numbers of people are receiving treatment in the private sector and through their employment, there is still a policy not to provide treatment in public hospitals and clinics. South Africa has even fallen out of sink with most SADC countries who have commenced treatment programmes. We cannot be reassured by the existence of a secretive committee of the Departments of Health and Finance, whose research cannot be subject to public scrutiny, but which will form the basis for a Cabinet decision of enormous import. This policy causes many preventable deaths.

These facts and failings are causing untold anguish in tens of thousands of households throughout South Africa. TAC calls on government to use the anniversary of April 17th to announce a plan to provide ARV treatment, and to return to and conclude the Nedlac process.
With such a commitment TAC would immediately end its civil disobedience campaign and do all in its power to further mobilize communities in HIV prevention, treatment and care.

To mark the anniversary of April 17th 2002 today TAC supporters have organised activities throughout the country today.

This has included condom distributions, workshops on treatment and prevention, clinic cleanups, mural painting, pickets, presentations to schools and interfaith services. Here is a small sample of some of the events that are taking place today (16 April)

Picket outside the Gauteng Provincial Department of Health and small pickets at major intersections in Johannesburg
Condom distribution and pamphleteering down the streets of Site C, Khayelitsha, Cape Town
Cleanup at Fredville Clinic in Inshanga, Kwazulu-Natal
Interfaith service at 18:00, in Marion Hill hospital in Durban
Clinic cleanups in Mdantsane and Duncan Village, East London
Visiting a hospice for HIV-positive children in Barberton, Mpumalanga

The media are also alerted to the following pending activities:

April 19th: Funerals of Edward Mabundla and Charlene Wilson:
April 24th: International day of action.
April 24th : Day of action focusing on the Departments of Health and Trade and Industry
May 5 & 6th : Health workers days of action.



Charlene Wilson: A TAC Leader Dies

Dear All
Charlene Wilson, a TAC leader, sister, daughter, community activist and our comrade has died. She is survived by her mother, Louisa, her brother Shannon, her sister Megan and her father. Her mother, who proudly wears an HIV-positive t-shirt, is also a TAC activist and a strong supporter of Charlene's work. Charlene was an activist and women's leader who worked as a volunteer at Circle of Life. She lived openly with HIV in a community that was often hostile to her.   She fought for openness in her community and worked closely with the nurses and doctors at the clinic in  Eersterust ensuring that people living with HIV and AIDS received proper treatment and care for their opportunistic infections.

Charlene started treatment on antiretroviral medicines when her CD4 count was below 10 and she was very ill in October 2002. Recovering from a CD4 count this low, even with antiretroviral medicines, is difficult. Nevertheless Charlene got much better. But in the last few weeks she contracted lactic acidosis as a side-effect of stavudine, one of the antiretrovirals in her regimen.  At the point at which this was diagnosed, the condition rapidly became irreversible. She  was admitted to intensive care at Helen Joseph Hospital where she died on Monday April 14th. Charlene's mother believes her antiretroviral medicines brought her an extra six months of life. Nevertheless, the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) recognises, as we have frequently stated, that the side-effects of antiretroviral medicines can be very serious, especially in patients with severely compromised immune systems. This is why it is critical to have good monitoring and support systems in place and for people with HIV to have access to proper treatment literacy.

Charlene will be deeply missed by all at TAC. She joins six other TAC activists and leaders who died in the last three weeks --Kebareng Moeketsi, Edward Mabunda, Mxolifi Kohlakala, Mzokuhle Fanayi and two comrades whose families have not yet given permission for the use of their names.  Apart from Charlene, none of the other comrades had access to antiretrovirals.  In Charlene's memory and that of all our comrades, we will redouble our efforts to campaign for a decent public health-care system. We will struggle for the implementation of antiretroviral programmes which include voluntary counselling and testing, treatment literacy, support group, monitoring and diagnostic functions and the training of all health care workers.

TAC salutes the courage of Charlene's mother Louisa, her brother Shannon and her sister Megan and our condolences go to her family and friends. We miss her deeply.


In solidarity





List of International Actions Planned for Global Day of Action, 24 April 2003

This is a preliminary list which will be updated and placed on the TAC website. Where two numbers are given next to each other, the first is  a phone number, the second is a fax number. Please email corrections and additions to or