1st December 2014
Dear Global Donors
Fulfilling the right to health depends on common purpose between researchers, clinicians, and activists
On the eve of World AIDS Day 2014 we write this letter as globally recognized researchers, scientists, and academics who are concerned about reports of the possible closure of the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) in South Africa as a consequence of serious funding difficulties.
We believe that health and access to health services is a human right. But we want to state unequivocally that as much as fulfillment of the right to health requires investment into new scientific breakthroughs and sound research discoveries it also requires investment and support of strong, independent, organized and relevant civil society movements.
Civil society, particularly people living with HIV, have played a pivotal role throughout the response to HIV/AIDS. In the 1980s it was the activists’ demands for treatment that increased funding for HIV research and created a sense of urgency in the medical community; in the 1990s and 2000s the loud global voice of activists helped create political commitment for the response to HIV which in turn released funds for research into many of the scientific breakthroughs we can since claim. Activists have also ensured that new science, such as that on both treatment and prevention, has been turned rapidly into delivery of care and services, and they have maintained oversight of the health systems needed to deliver this.
As a result, in the arena of HIV we have witnessed something unique – global social justice in the response to one disease. We believe the lessons of HIV need to be expanded upon: a similar alliance of activism and scientific inquiry is needed for TB, Ebola, Malaria, Cancer and the myriad of other health challenges that confront the globe.
Many activist organizations have contributed to this change but undoubtedly one of the most excellent health and human rights movements has been the TAC in South Africa.
Through its campaigns for anti-retroviral treatment the TAC helped to change the response to the HIV epidemic in South Africa- the epicenter of the global epidemic- from one that was mired in political denialism to one that wins praise for South Africa all over the world. We also salute the role that TAC played and continues to play in treatment literacy, educating communities about HIV, their treatment and the importance of adherence. Consequently, two and a half million people are now on ARV treatment in South Africa.
However, this is no cause for complacency or for the dismantling and demobilization of civil society. New challenges have replaced old ones; new science requires new activism and vice versa. Sustaining and expanding this intervention to all six million HIV infected people in South Africa requires that TAC now focuses its activism on TB, on exercising oversight over the quality of public health services, ensuring accountability and a continued sense of urgency.
This is why it is alarming to hear that TAC is facing closure apparently due to the mistaken belief that many donors and governments believe either we are nearing the end of AIDS or because they view South Africa as a middle-income country, not in need of donor support. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Allowing the TAC (and others like it in other countries of the world) to die for lack of funding will have very grave consequences. Without activist monitoring the South African AIDS response could go into reverse. Precious gains could be lost. Poor adherence, loss to follow up and medicine stock outs could go unreported. If this happens, there will be little to celebrate by the time the 21st International AIDS Conference returns to Durban in 2016- the city in which TAC first organized a global march for access to treatment.
Outside of the scientific community many leaders we admire and respect have added their voices to save the TAC. These powerful voices include Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Mpilo Tutu, Madame Graca Machel and Stephen Lewis.
We are now adding our voices to their appeal. Please- let us in 10 years time look towards this moment as one of inspiration and renewal, not of failure.
In 2014, let us mark 10 years of anti-retrovirals in South Africa as a moment where we were reinvigorated and as a moment where we give civil society the support they need and deserve.
We close our appeal by remembering words used by Nelson Mandela 10 years ago, specifically in relation to HIV:
“The more we lack the courage and the will to act, the more we condemn to death our brothers and sisters, our children and our grandchildren. When the history of our times is written, will we be remembered as the generation that turned our backs in a moment of a global crisis or will it be recorded that we did the right thing?”
Yours in health,
1.Professor Peter Piot, Director of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, Professor of Global Health, Founding Executive Director, UNAIDS
2.Professor Françoise Barré-Sinoussi, Nobel Prize laureate
3.Professor Quarraisha Abdool Karim, Associate Scientific Director: Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA), Professor of Epidemiology: Columbia University
4.Professor Salim S Abdool Karim, Director: CAPRISA – Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa
5.Professor Michel Alary, Centre de recherche du CHU de Quebec, Quebec, Canada; Departement de Medecine Sociale et Préventive, Universite Laval, Quebec, Canada
6.Dr John Ashmore, PhD, Deputy Head of Mission, Médecins Sans Frontières South Africa & Lesotho
7.Dr Manica Balasegaram, Executive Director Access Campaign, Médecins Sans Frontières
8.Professor Stefan Baral MD MPH MBA CCFP FRCPC. Director, Key Populations Program, Center for Public Health and Human Rights, Department of Epidemiology Johns Hopkins School of Public Health
9.Professor Linda-Gail Bekker, MDPhD, Deputy Director, The Desmond Tutu HIV Centre, University of Cape Town
10.Dr Chris Beyrer, President International AIDS Society
11.Professor Tihana Bicanic, Senior Lecturer and Consultant in Infectious Diseases, St George’s University of London
12.Professor Marie-Claude Boily, MSc, PhD, Department of Infectious Diseases Epidemiology, School of Public Health, Imperial College London
13.Dr Brian Brink, Chief Medical Officer, Anglo American plc
14.Dr Pedro Cahn, MD; PhD, Director, Fundación Huesped, Buenos Aires, Argentina
15.Professor Francesca Conradie, President, Southern African HIV Clinicians Society
16.Professor Ashraf Coovadia, Adjunct Professor of Paediatrics, Head of Department – Paediatrics and Child Health Rahima Moosa Mother and Child Hospital, University of the Witwatersand
17.Professor Hoosen (Jerry) Coovadia, Emeritus Professor, University of KwaZulu-Natal & Director Maternal Adolescent and Child Health, University of the Witwatersrand
18.Professor Roel A Coutinho MD PhD, Professor of epidemiology and control of infectious diseases, University of Utrecht, the Netherlands
19.Jean-François Delfraissy MD, PhD, Director, National Agency for Aids Research, France
20.Dr Robert N Davidson, Department of Infectious Diseases & Tropical Medicine, Northwick Park Hospital, United Kingdom, Honorary Senior Lecturer, University of Cape Town
21.Dr Tom Ellman, Director of Southern Africa Medical Unit, Médecins Sans Frontières South Africa
22.Professor Sarah J Fidler, Reader and consultant physician in HIV, Department of Medicine, Imperial College London
23.Professor Gerald Friedland, Departments of Medicine and Epidemiology and Public Health, Yale School of Medicine
24.Professor Rajesh Gandhi, MD, Director, HIV Clinical Services and Education, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston
25.Dr Eric Goemaere, MD,DTMH,MSc, Senior Regional HIV/TB support coordinator, Médecins Sans Frontières South Africa; Centre for Infectious Disease Epidemiology and Research, Honoris Causa Doctor, University of Cape Town
26.Professor Lawrence O Gostin, Founding O’Neill Chair in Global Health Law. Faculty Director, O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law, Georgetown University
27.Professor Glenda Gray MBBCH FCPaed (SA) DSc (honoris causa), Professor of Paediatrics, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand
28.Professor Martin Peter Grobusch, Center of Tropical Medicine and Travel Medicine, Department of Infectious Diseases, Academic Medical Center, University of Amsterdam
29.Professor Diane Havlir, Professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, and the chief of the HIV/AIDS Division at San Francisco General Hospital.
30.Professor Mina Hosseinipour, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine and UNC Project, Lilongwe Malawi
31.Professor Bavesh Kana (PhD), Early Career Scientist of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Head of Research Unit DST/NRF Centre of Excellence for Biomedical TB Research, University of the Witwatersrand
32.Dr Saul Kornik, CEO, Africa Health Placements, South Africa
33.Dr N Kumarasamy, Chief Medical Officer, YRGCARE Medical Centre, Voluntary Health Services, Chennai, India
34.Professor Andrew ML Lever FRCP FRCPath FMedSci FLSW, Professor of Infectious Diseases, Honorary Consultant Physician, University of Cambridge Department of Medicine
35.Professor Leslie London, Head, Public Health Medicine, Head of the Health and Human Rights Division in the School of Public Health and Family Medicine, University of Cape Town
36.Professor Gary Maartens, Division of Clinical Pharmacology, Department of Medicine, University of Cape Town
37.Professor Vincent C Marconi, MD. Division of Infectious Diseases, Emory University School of Medicine, Department of Global Health, Rollins School of Public Health, Emory University
38.Professor James McIntyre, Anova Health Institute, Johannesburg & School of Public Heath & Family Health, University of Cape Town
39.Professor Graeme Meintjes, Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town
40.Professor Marc Mendelson, Division of Infectious Diseases and HIV Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Cape Town
41.Andrew Mews, Médecins Sans Frontières Head of Mission South Africa & Lesotho
42.Professor Valerie Mizrahi, PhD, Director, Institute of Infectious Disease & Molecular Medicine, University of Cape Town
43.Professor Julio SG Montaner, MD, DSc (hon), FRCPC, FCCP, FACP, FRSC, OBC, Professor of Medicine, University of British Columbia and St. Paul’s Hospital Foundation Chair in AIDS Research, Head of Division of AIDS. UNAIDS Special Advisor on HIV Therapeutics.
44.Professor Yunus Moosa, Department of Infectious Diseases, Nelson R. Mandela School of Medicine, University of KwaZulu-Natal
45.Professor Lynn Morris, National Institute for Communicable Diseases and University of the Witwatersrand
46.Dr Kogie Naidoo, Head: Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA) Treatment Research Programme
47.Professor Marie-Louise Newell MB MSc PhD FMedSci. Professor of Global Health, Academic Unit of Human Development and Health, Faculty of Medicine/Faculty of Social and Human Sciences, University of Southampton
48.Dr Catherine Orrell, The Desmond Tutu HIV Centre, Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine, University of Cape Town
49.Professor Nesri Padayatchi, Deputy Director, Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA), South Africa
50.Professor Helen Rees, Executive Director, Wits Reproductive Health Institute; Ad Hominem Professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, University of the Witwatersrand; Honorary Professor, Department of Infectious and Tropical Diseases, Clinical Research Unit, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
51.Professor Theresa Rossouw, Departments of Family Medicine and Immunology, University of Pretoria.
52.Professor Ed Rybicki, PhD, Academic Liaison, Research Portal Project, and Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine and Department of Molecular & Cell Biology, University of Cape Town
53.Professor Ian Sanne – Clinical HIV Research Unit, Department of Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand and CEO Right to Care
54.Professor Helen Schneider, Director, School of Public Health, University of the Western Cape
55.Professor Olive Shisana, Sc.D, Chief Executive Officer, Human Sciences Research Council, South Africa
56.Professor Leickness Chisamu Simbayi, D.Phil, Executive Director, HIV/AIDS, STIs & TB Programme, Human Sciences Research Council, South Africa
57.Professor Steffanie A Strathdee, PhD, Harold Simon Professor, Associate Dean of Global Health Sciences, University of California San Diego School of Medicine
58.Dr Tim Tucker, SEAD Consulting, Cape Town
59.Dr Cloete van Vuuren, Head of Department of Medicine: 3 Military Hospital, Affiliated Senior Lecturer: Infectious Diseases, Internal Medicine, University of the Free State
60.Professor Stefano Vella MD, Head of the Department of Therapeutic Research and Medicines Evaluation, Istituto Superiore di Sanità, Italy
61.Professor Francois Venter, Deputy Executive Director, Wits Reproductive Health & HIV Institute, University of the Witwatersrand
62.Professor Paul Volberding, Professor of Medicine and Director of Research, Global Health Sciences. University of California San Francisco
63.Professor Charlotte Watts, Head of the Social and Mathematical Epidemiology Group, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine
64.Professor Anna-Lise Williamson PhD, SARChI Chair in Vaccinology, Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine/ Division of Medical Virology, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town
65.Professor Carolyn Williamson, Head of Division of Medical Virology, University of Cape Town & National Health Laboratory Services
66.Dr Gustaaf Wolvaardt, MBChB, M.Med, FCP, PGCHE, Managing Director, Foundation for Professional Development, South Africa
67.Professor Robin Wood, Director and Principal Investigator, The Desmond Tutu HIV Centre, Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town