AIDS activists demand treatment for all

By Anika Richards, Jamaica Observer| July 18, 2016

DURBAN, South Africa — As the world observed Nelson Mandela International Day, thousands of civil rights activists from South Africa and across the world took to the streets of Durban, South Africa, calling for treatment for all while highlighting the disconnect between political promises to end AIDS and the realities on the ground.

The march coincided with the first day of the 21st International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2016) in Durban on Monday, and saw activists meeting at the King Dinuzulu Park then making their way along Dr Pixley KaSeme Street, before stopping at Durban’s City Hall. The activists ended their march at the Durban International Convention Centre, where AIDS 2016 was in full swing.

At the City Hall stop, activists demanded to meet with United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon to raise their concerns about insufficient funding for the AIDS epidemic.

The activists say world leaders gathered at the United Nations a few weeks ago and promised to end AIDS by 2030, but pointed out that 20 million of the 37 million people living with HIV do not have access to treatment.

 While trying to arrange a meeting with Ban outside City Hall earlier today, General Secretary of the Treatment Action Campaign Anele Boyce Yawa said he wants the secretary general to know that poor people’s lives matter too.

“Even if we are poor, even if we access health care services in the public system, we want his attention,” he said.

“Eight months ago he appointed the high-level panel on access to medicines and we are aware that pharmaceutical companies want to stall the recommendations of that panel,” he continued. “So I want to put pressure to him to list the recommendations of that panel because that panel speaks to access for all.”

He insisted that only poor people are suffering at the moment because medicines are too expensive for them to afford it.

In 2000 activists reportedly stormed the International AIDS Conference in Durban and forced a revolution in the response to HIV at the time when the consensus was AIDS treatment for Africa was not feasible.

Returning to Durban 16 years later, activists lauded the advances in HIV science but pledged to overturn the new consensus barring access to that science for so many — pessimism about funding and magical thinking about ending AIDS with business as usual.

“Today in South Africa, 440 people will die of AIDS. Four hundred and forty more will die tomorrow and the next day — 18 people every hour,” Yawa said.

“Our political leaders want to talk about the millions who are on treatment — which is a far cry from the last Durban AIDS conference. But we know that instead we have to tell the truth about the majority who still lack access.”

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