GLOBAL MARCH FOR HIV/AIDS TREATMENT
TO THE INTERNATIONAL AIDS CONFERENCE
9 JULY 2000, Durban South Africa
PRICES ARE TOO HIGH = TREATMENTS NOT AVAILABLE
Anti-retroviral drugs have been shown to extend the lives and improve the health of many people with AIDS and advanced HIV disease. There are drugs that can successfully prevent, treat, and cure the opportunistic infections and co-infections, such as tuberculosis, fungal infections, pneumonias, cancers and malaria that kill most people with HIV and AIDS. People in poor countries cannot gain access to life-saving medications because of their price.
EVERYONE HAS THE RIGHT TO HEALTH!
All people with HIV/AIDS have a right to access treatments in addition to health care, employment, education, clean water, adequate nutrition including vitamins and mineral supplements, and housing. Denying people with HIV/AIDS access to affordable medicines in order to protect profits or intellectual property rights, is tantamount to genocide. Denying access to treatments or prevention intervention by any government body using the smokescreen of questioning the cause of AIDS is unacceptable.
TREATMENT WILL SUSTAIN DEVELOPMENT
In the worst affected countries of the world, AIDS will massively increase inequality and poverty, widening the gap between rich nations and poor nations, men and women, as well as rich and poor if people are not allowed to live healthy and productive lives. Access to treatment for people with HIV/AIDS is essential to promote social and economic development for all.
CHILDREN HAVE A RIGHT TO TREATMENT AND FAMILY LIFE
All children with HIV/AIDS have the right to treatment, parental care and support. Access to treatment for adults with children can give children access to quality parenting support by prolonging that life and improving the quality of that life.
WOMEN WITH HIV/AIDS HAVE AN EQUAL RIGHT TO TREATMENT
Denial of treatment for HIV/AIDS affect women disproportionately because of social, political and economic inequality. All women with HIV/AIDS have an equal right to treatment, care and support. All women have a right to anti-retroviral access to reduce HIV transmission during pregnancy.
HIV/AIDS RESEARCH MUST FOCUS ON POOR COUNTRIES AND COMMUNITIES
Most HIV/AIDS research has focussed on the industrialised rich countries. The medical needs of children and women across the world have largely been ignored. Treatment and care of gay men and men who have sex with men in Africa, the Middle East, Asia and the Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean have been neglected. Research priorities for prevention, treatment, care and support must reflect the profile of the disease and the needs of those who carry the heaviest burden. This is a challenge to the International AIDS Society and the Conference. All people, including people with HIV/AIDS, have a human right to health care, and we call on all individuals, organisations, and governments to ensure adequate medical infrastructure, care and treatments to save the lives of people living with HIV/AIDS.
Durban, 9 July 2000 - Treatment Access March
"Let me start by accepting what has recently become less obvious: AIDS exists and HIV causes AIDS". So Winnie Madikizela-Mandela began her strident attack on the ANC government's perceived lack of sufficient action in tackling the pandemic.
"Let us concede we have failed to take AIDS seriously and we must take responsibility for the failure. We knew the plague was moving South and we wasted time with Sarafina and Nevirapine and right-wing American scientists. This is a social holocaust."
She led the cry of "Phansi, Pfizer, Phansi!" which echoed across the square yesterday afternoon as banners proclaiming "One dissident, one bullet" were draped over the Winged Victory statue. Thousands took up her chant in front of the Durban City Hall where AIDS activists from around the world openly defied pharmaceutical manufacturers and the South African government's AIDS policies.
To resounding cheers, Madikizela-Mandela identified drug companies Pfizer, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Hoffman Roche and Abbott as among those who "oppose lowering the cost of drugs". She said that "If we struggle against HIV/AIDS the same way we struggled against apartheid, we can turn back time. If we give the same attention to this struggle as we gave to the World Cup bid, we would save thousands of lives".
The 3 000 strong-protest was organised by the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), ACT UP and the Health Global Access Coalition. TAC recently picketed the offices of Pfizer to demand it bring down the prices of its drug fluconazole that treats opportunistic fungal infections.
Madikizela-Mandela was joined on the City Hall steps by another female firebrand, PAC MP Patricia De Lille who also lambasted the government's strategies. "We need to stop hiding behind the bickering between orthodox and dissident scientists". She called for further public/private partnerships to drive down the price of AIDS drugs and urged co-operation with all churches. She said "the drug companies must know that HIV-positive people are a powerful force".
Religious communities were represented by the Durban Catholic leader, Bishop Hurley, Anglican Archbishop Ndongane and outspoken Muslim, Farid Esack from the Commission on Gender Equality.
The latter urged HIV/AIDS activists to become antiretroviral drug smugglers if necessary. He said that, in the same way as cocaine, Mandrax and other narcotics were manufactured in backyard factories, activists should also consider "the underground route if it means we can save the lives of our people". If dockets covering narcotics-smuggling could be "lost" by police, activists should urge authorities to turn a blind eye to smuggling lifesaving drugs.
"We will, with or without the support of the law, whenever we go abroad, smuggle in drugs. We will become dissidents and, if they want to charge us, let them charge us," he told the crowd. Later in the front line, he suggested that "those with a 25 kg baggage allowance on airoplanes should bring in 25 kg of AIDS-drugs; those with a 50 kg allowance, bring in 50kg".
Arm-in-arm, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Patricia De Lille, Farid Esack, Archbishop Ndongane, and Tac organisers, Zackie Achmat and Mark Heywood, led the march through central Durban in a roundabout route from the City Hall to Kingsmead Stadium. The route had not been pre-advertised to the Durban authorities or marchers but after some initial unclarity, soon developed into a peaceful and orderly procession of over an hour.
The march leaders presented a memorandum to Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang , Conference Chair Professor Jerry Coovadia and Executive Director of UNAIDS, Peter Piot. The memorandum demanded that the government start parallel importation, compulsory licensing and provide affordable drugs, including antiretrovirals. It also insisted the government prevent mother-to-child transmission by providing AZT and/or Nevirapine to pregnant women.
Tshabalala-Msimang promised that the government was working on these issues and said she would "fight tooth and nail to make treatment accessible not only to South Africa, but to sub-Saharan Africa." Nevirapine producer, Boehringer Ingelheim, last week offered to provide the drug free to the government for five years. The state is presently also negotiating with Pfizer to increase their offer of free fluconazole for two years.
In the front line of the march, De Lille addressed this reporter's questions on the message for South African doctors, over 400 of whom are attending the conference. She said they were "failing in their ethical duty to speak out. Their acceptance in sending patients away without treatment is unacceptable" Esack agreed and said doctors were involved in a "collusion and conspiracy" with pharmaceutical manufacturers. He said many had forgotten their humanitarian calling in their 'commitment to lining their own pockets".
Janet Howse, South African Medical Journal ______
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When PWAs first sat at the AIDS Conference Table (Montreal AIDS Conference '89)
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