AIDS Activists from 21 African Countries Launch Pan-African HIV/AIDS Treatment Access Movement
Activists to Hold Governments, Multilateral Agencies, and the Private Sector Accountable for Meeting WHO Target of at Least 3 Million People in Developing World on ARV Treatment by 2005
Cape Town, 26 August 2002 – Against the backdrop of the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg, South Africa, over 70 African AIDS activists from 21 countries met in Cape Town from 22-24 August to inaugurate the Pan-African HIV/AIDS Treatment Access Movement (PHATAM). PHATAM’s co-founders are two of the world’s leading AIDS activists, Zackie Achmat of the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) in South Africa and Milly Katana, lobbying and advocacy officer of the Health Rights Action Group in Uganda and member of Board of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria. PHATAM is dedicated to mobilising communities, political leaders, and all sectors of society to ensure access to antiretroviral (ARV) treatment, as a fundamental part of comprehensive care for all people with HIV/AIDS in Africa.
“We are angry. Our people are dying,” said Milly Katana. “We can no longer accept millions of needless AIDS deaths simply because we are poor Africans. We know ARV treatment is feasible in our countries and are launching a movement to demand ARV treatment that won’t take ‘no’ for an answer.”
PHATAM representatives will attend the WSSD to submit a Declaration of Action with demands of African governments, wealthy country governments, multilateral institutions, and the private sector, including the pharmaceutical industry. “The world leaders meeting in Johannesburg must recognise that without a healthy population we cannot have development. Health is a prerequisite for sustainable development—and access to AIDS treatment in Africa is the key to improving health,” said Zackie Achmat. “We are united in our commitment to ensure that millions of lives are saved on our continent. The role of the Movement is to hold national and international bodies accountable to obligations such as the immediate development and implementation of national HIV/AIDS treatment plans.” (Note: see below for listing of upcoming PHATAM campaign events.)
At PHATAM’s inaugural meeting, activists assessed the gaps in their countries’ HIV/AIDS policies and programmes, noting in particular the scarcity of ARV treatment programmes. “It’s true you have African governments, even wealthy countries, talking about mother-to-child-transmission prevention—which is vital as it provides the entry point to both treatment and prevention—but we’re asking ‘What about the mothers and the rest of the family?’” continued Katana. “We need to find treatment for them quickly—like yesterday—to save their lives and to reverse the tide of the growing orphan epidemic in Africa.”
PHATAM called for African countries to implement the World Trade Organisation’s Declaration, signed at the Doha Ministerial Meeting, on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health, and insisted that the U.S. and other wealthy countries allow countries with limited pharmaceutical manufacturing capacity to purchase low-cost, generic versions of patented medicines from exporting countries once WTO rules on patents have been fully implemented.
“Pharmaceutical industry profiteering and patent abuse has caused enough death and suffering across our continent. Our governments must take the cue from the WTO, which has finally put public health ahead of the patent rights of the super-profitable pharmaceutical companies,” said Dr. John Wasonga of the Kenya Coalition for Access to Essential Medicines. “But we need every possible option to save our people, from local production of quality generic ARVs to buying medicines in bulk that have been exported from generic companies in Asia, Latin America and other places. We cannot afford to squander money on costly patented medicines while our people are dying.”
“While a necessary component of the response to HIV/AIDS, prevention will never be enough,” added Winston Zulu of the Network of Zambian People Living with HIV/AIDS (NZP+). “When will the world wake up to the fact that the 16 million Africans that have already died of HIV/AIDS? This is only the beginning if we continue down the prevention-only path. This movement will make treatment, which we all know strengthens prevention efforts, our priority demand.”
Delegates also emphasized the need for nutritional support, treatment of opportunistic infections, rebuilding of public health care and elimination of new HIV infections but agreed that treatment with ARVs must be prioritised.
“HIV/AIDS treatment education is power,” said Olayide Akanni of the Nigeria Treatment Access Coalition. “Africans will work together to create simple, accessible treatment information on all aspects of HIV/AIDS care and treatment. We must be empowered with the life-saving information we need to demand proper treatment from our health-care providers, governments, and workplaces.”
“People with HIV/AIDS in Africa are fed up with the international community’s broken promises,” said Dr. Eric Goemaere, Head of Mission for Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in South Africa, which is now providing ARV therapy in Khayelitsha, a poor township in the Western Cape. “They are tired of hearing about pilot projects. The time to scale-up is long overdue and this will only be possible with political action at the national and international level. This community-based movement must provoke the necessary political response.”
Immediate actions of PHATAM include:
§ 9 October: PHATAM is calling for a Global Day of Protests to demand that donor countries make contributions proportionate to their wealth to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (GFATM). Activists will also call for the prioritisation of treatment by the GFATM and the active involvement of people with HIV/AIDS in GFATM Country Coordinating Mechanisms.
§ 17 October: PHATAM will participate in a Global Day of Action Against Coca-Cola and other multinational companies to demand ARV treatment for all HIV-positive workers and their families.
§ 1 December, World AIDS Day: PHATAM is calling for a Global Day for Access to HIV/AIDS Treatment.