News from the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC)

January 28, 2009

Free State ART Shortages – TAC Demands Answers and Accountability

On 19 December 2009 TAC wrote to Sakhiwo Belot, MEC for Health for the Free State Province, asking for clarity on a range of issues relating to the Free State�s critical, life threatening shortages of antiretroviral drugs. After having failed to receive a response from MEC Belot�s offices, TAC sent a follow-up letter on 21 January 2009, the deadline for response was 26 January 2009. We are still awaiting a reply.

The lack of response from MEC Belot is particularly troublesome given the urgency of the situation. The financial crisis in the Free State Health Department led to the decision to suspend the Province�s ART roll-out. Since we were originally alerted to stoppages and shortages of ART in the Free State in November of last year, our investigations into the matter have revealed that the situation has worsened. Despite a reported R9.5 million transfer by National Treasury –funds that originated from the US Centres for Disease Control – to support the Free State�s ART programme, we continue to receive reports that no new patients, except for pregnant women, are being initiated onto antiretroviral therapy and that baseline blood work for people living with HIV has been suspended at all public sector health facilities.

Worryingly we have also begun to receive information from health care workers on the ground that the impact of the current financial crisis in the Free State is no longer restricted to the province�s ART programme but that a range of other health programmes are now being affected and that many essential medicines apart from ARV�s are now also in critically short supply.

We call on Mr Belot to respond to fulfill his duty as an MEC. Respond to our letters explaining what actions you will be taking to rectify this unacceptable situation.

Update on Zimbabwe Health and Political Crisis

The political troubles in Zimbabwe have taken a toll on the population�s health. A severe cholera outbreak in Zimbabwe and the surrounding region including South Africa, Angola, and Mozambique continues to claims more lives. The situation is critical.

Many people are struggling to get clean water and enough food. The cholera epidemic seems to be gathering new momentum. Figures released by the WHO show a massive increase from a �cumulative total of 48 623 cases and 2 755 deaths, with an overall fatality rate of 5.7 per cent�.

According to the Physicians for Human Rights in a report released last week the cholera outbreak is fuelled by the collapse of Zimbabwe�s health, water, and sanitation systems. The report points out that the decline in the nation�s health care system is �exacerbating the country�s HIV/AIDS epidemic.� The increased efforts to treat cholera and other infectious diseases present an �acute� threat to inpatients AIDS care in Zimbabwe says Dr David Sanders who was part of the PHR team.

  • Read the full report on the disaster in Zimbabwe
  • Read the Executive Summary of PHR's findings

    The political and economic crisis continues with no end in sight despite the intervention of SADC. The country�s hyperinflation has made treatment unaffordable. The public health system, like the private institutions, now charge fees in US dollars or rands, which most of the population have no access to.

    More Information contact: Regis Mtutu, TAC International Solidarity Coordinator: + 27 84 310 8614

    Arrest of MSM in Senegal

    On December 22 2008, nine men were arrested in Senegal and charged with "committing acts against nature" and "establishing an illegal organization". On January 6 2009 they were convicted and sentenced to eight years in prison.

    It is believed that the charges were laid against these individuals because they are men who have sex with men and active in HIV prevention and treatment organizations in the country. Activists working on the situation understand that part of the case against the men derived from their possession of HIV information for distribution amongst men who have sex with men.

    The arrest of these men is deeply concerning. It is a violation of their privacy and their right to life and dignity. It is a poignant example of the barriers we still face in upholding the rights of people living with HIV and delivering effective national HIV prevention and treatment programmes.

    Activists in Senegal have been working closely with government and are hopeful that they can come to an adequate and timely agreement. For now TAC is respecting their request to let the national process proceed.

    Meanwhile international dignitaries including Archbishop Emeritus Desmond M Tutu and Justice Edwin Cameron have signed a letter authored by former President of Botswana Festus Mogae to President Wade of Senegal appealing for personal consideration into the case and consideration into the the adverse impact their fate has on constructive HIV policies on the continent.

    Sex Worker Conference

    The human rights situation facing sex workers in Africa demands immediate attention. The first ever African sex worker-led conference will take place in Johannesburg, South Africa, on the 3rd-5th of February 2009 to respond to the denial of human rights and the ongoing violence and discrimination against sex workers in Africa. The primary organiser is the Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT, www.sweat.org.za).

    The conference, among other things, will discuss health risks, access to health care services and facilities, and sexual and reproductive health rights.

    If you want to know more about the conference please contact valda.lucas@sweat.org.za.
    If you wish to book a place at the conference, please contact mapaseka.vryman@sweat.org.za.
    Attendance is R100 per day. As there are limited places, prior booking is required.

    Islam and AIDS: Between Scorn, Pity, and Justice, by Farid Esack and Sarah Chiddy

    Islam and AIDS is the first book to comprehensively address the HIV/AIDS pandemic from an Islamic perspective, with contributions from a number of internationally known activists and scholars of Islam, including Kecia Ali and Abdulaziz Sachedina. With an introduction by Peter Piot, Director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, this landmark work provides an insight into new possibilities of critical and progressive Islamic approaches, in both law and ethics, to one of the most urgent crises facing humankind today.

    Covering emotive issues such as gender, justice, poverty, health, disease, addiction, and sexuality, Islam and AIDS provides the religious analysis so essential for the communities at the forefront of the epidemic.

    Farid Esack is a South African Muslim, scholar, writer, and political activist. A former Commissioner for Gender Equality appointed by Nelson Mandela, he was a founding member of both the AIDS Treatment Action Campaign and Positive Muslims. He is currently Visiting Professor of Islamic Studies at Harvard University. Sarah Chiddy has a master�s degree from Harvard Divinity School and works as a spiritual counsellor for people with HIV and AIDS.

    Available from bookshops or order direct from Oneworld Publications and receive 20% discount by quoting reference OWFLY09 (Subject to P&P;). For all other enquiries email: marketing@oneworld-publications.com. – Issued by TAC

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