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IRIN Plus News: South Africa: A timeline of HIV/AIDS activism

South Africa: A timeline of HIV/AIDS activism
from IRIN Plus News: October 4, 2011

JOHANNESBURG, 4 October 2011 (PlusNews) – In a new book, Fighting for our Lives, the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), an HIV/AIDS lobby group, looks back on more than a decade of activism. IRIN/PlusNews presents a timeline of 12 years of highlights as the group translated action into wider access to HIV treatment:

1998 – The TAC is launched on the steps of Cape Town’s St George’s Cathedral with its first campaign – calling for the provision of the antiretroviral (ARV) Zidovudine (AZT) for pregnant, HIV-positive mothers to prevent mother-to-child HIV transmission (PMTCT). The organization’s first statement also urges the government to develop a plan to provide affordable treatment for all HIV-positive South Africans;

March 1999 – After starting a petition for the introduction of PMTCT services, TAC members march on one of the country’s largest hospitals, Chris Hani-Baragwaneth, in Johannesburg’s largest township of Soweto. TAC protesters stage a lie-in at the hospital’s gate;

June 1999 – Thabo Mbeki is elected president and Manto Tshabalala-Msimang is appointed health minister, ushering in an era of “government-endorsed AIDS denialism”, according to the book. Later, a Harvard University study will estimate that Mbeki’s delay in rolling out ARVs caused the death of 300,000 South Africans in the next five years;

2000 – As the TAC imports the generic version of the antifungal medication, fluconazole, in defiance of pharmaceutical company Pfizer’s patent, Médecins Sans Frontières establishes the country’s first ARV treatment programme at a primary healthcare clinic in the Cape Town township of Khayelitsha. (Fluconazole is often used to treat opportunistic infections such as thrush and cryptococcal meningitis);

2002 – South Africa’s Constitutional Court rules in favour of the TAC, forcing the government to provide the ARV nevirapine to pregnant, HIV-positive mothers to prevent their unborn babies from contracting the virus. Later that year, Hazel Tau lodges a complaint regarding high ARV prices with the national regulatory body, the Competition Commission. She wins this complaint a year later;

2003 – The TAC launches its civil disobedience campaign. Later that year, 21-year-old TAC member Lorna Mlofana is murdered after revealing her HIV-positive status. The man convicted of her murder served a few years in prison before being released;

2004 – Government begins the slow roll-out of ARV treatment;

2006 – The TAC wins a court case that establishes the right of prisoners to treatment. As of July 2011, about 9 percent of the country’s jails have ARV clinics on site;

2008 – Government releases new PMTCT guidelines for administering more effective dual therapy instead of single ARV treatment;

Mbeki is recalled from the presidency by the ruling African National Congress and Tshabalala-Msimang is replaced. Later that year, a moratorium on ARV treatment in South Africa’s Free State province commences due to financial mismanagement. The TAC launches protests at a local hospital in the province and parliament;

November 2008
 – TAC reveals it is experiencing a financial crisis that would force it to retrench 20 percent of its staff and cut back its treatment literacy programme;

2009 – Jacob Zuma, the new President, signals an end to denialism and announces improved treatment guidelines, long lobbied for by the TAC and partners;

2010 – South Africa has the biggest treatment programme in the world targeting at least one million people.

llg/kn/mw

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