CAPE TOWN (Reuters) – South African AIDS activists suspended a nationwide civil disobedience campaign on Tuesday ahead of a meeting next month at which they hope the government may agree to provide AIDS drugs for millions of infected people.
CAPE TOWN (Reuters) – South African AIDS activists suspended a nationwide civil disobedience campaign on Tuesday ahead of a meeting next month at which they hope the government may agree to provide AIDS drugs for millions of infected people. The Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), which has targeted President Thabo Mbeki and other officials since its disobedience campaign began in March, said it was putting protests on hold pending a meeting of the National AIDS Council on May 17. “We are suspending the campaign in the interest of ensuring the fullest opportunity for government to prove its good faith,” TAC’s executive committee said in a statement. “However, should we encounter further unjustifiable delays or deceit, we will continue with all existing campaigns to get agreement on a national plan that saves lives by preventing HIV infection and treating people with AIDS.” South Africa has the highest number of people living with HIV in the world, but the government has refused to provide life-prolonging anti-retroviral drugs through state hospitals, saying they are too expensive and toxic. The TAC — which says the policy causes 600 AIDS deaths a day in a country with some 4.7 million HIV infections — has mounted an angry campaign to force a change and last month began occupying offices, blocking traffic and protesting against officials to drive its point home. More than 100 TAC members have been arrested in the campaign, which includes the laying of culpable homicide charges against Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang and Trade Minister Alec Erwin. The group has also booed Mbeki, who has been sharply criticized since he publicly questioned the widely-accepted link between HIV and AIDS in 2000. While cabinet ministers have rejected calls for a swift change in South Africa’s AIDS policies, TAC said Deputy President Jacob Zuma, who heads the national AIDS council, had agreed that next month’s meeting would include discussion of its demands for state-funded anti-AIDS drugs. It added that it proposed that any conclusions reached at the meeting would be put to the government as “urgent recommendations” that should be considered and adopted within three weeks. “The outcomes must include using the legal powers of the government to reduce the prices of medicines,” TAC said. On Sunday, drug giant GlaxoSmithKline Plc said it would cut the price of certain AIDS drugs by almost 50 percent for developing countries — a move which falls short of TAC’s demand for full competition with generic types of the drug.(Source: Reuters, Tue April 29, 2003 05:22 PM ET)