Keep campaign alive to beat HIV and Aids – experts

2014-12-01 12:09

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The gains that South Africa has made in the battle against HIV and Aids could be reversed if the 16-year-old Treatment Action Campaign was allowed to die.

This is the warning from a group of 65 prominent global scientists, professors and researchers who are signatories to a letter of appeal for donors to not pull the plug on the TAC, which led the campaign against Aids denialism in the country and of ensuring access to antiretroviral (ARV) treatment.

About 12% (about 6 million) of South Africans are HIV-positive, and more than 2.6 million take ARVs.

The letter was distributed to donors to coincide with World Aids Day today and follows similar calls by Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and Graça Machel to keep the TAC afloat.

“It is alarming to hear that the 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,” they said.

They warn that “precious gains could be lost” without healthcare oversight conducted by groups such as the TAC.

“Poor adherence, loss to follow up and medicine stocks-outs could go unreported,” they said.

The TAC was at the forefront of civil society’s efforts to demand treatment and ensuring political commitment, which led to funds being released for research into “many of the scientific breakthroughs we can since claim”.

“There is no cause for complacency … 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 the TAC now focuses its activism on tuberculosis, on exercising oversight over the quality of public health services, ensuring accountability and a continued sense of urgency.”

Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi’s spokesperson Joe Maila said yesterday that he was not in a position to comment immediately on the TAC.

Regarding World Aids Day, he said: “We have turned the corner; we are on the right track.”

The biggest challenge, he said, remained changing people’s behaviour.

“We must keep the conversation going … it must be a fight that we all taken part in to win the battle against HIV.”

There were 469 000 new HIV infections in South Africa in 2012, according to a study by the Human Sciences Research Council.

» Signatories to the letter emanate from leading research universities and institutes in Canada, United Kingdom, Netherlands, Argentina, France, United States, Malawi, India and South Africa. For a list, go to www.tac.org.za

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