South Africa: TAC Protests Against Shortages of Life-Saving Drugs
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BY MARY-ANNE GONTSANA
“We demand accountable leadership”, “Failure to resolve stock-outs = human rights violation”, “Limpopo Department of Health – Failed promises” read placards at the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) march in solidarity with provinces that continue to be plagued by finding essential medicines are out of stock.
Starting in Cape Town’s Keizersgracht, hundreds of activists wearing HIV t-shirts and carrying banners, marched to the provincial legislature to hand over two memorandums to Western Cape Education MEC Donald Grant and Health MEC Theuns Botha.
Escorted by the South African Police Service and the metro police the marchers sang all the way until they reached their first destination.
TAC provincial coordinator Mandla Majola said it was a threefold solidarity march because of nationwide stock shortages.
“We are worried about stock-outs in other provinces and we want to raise concerns about health in the Western Cape. Khayelitsha Hospital looks all nice and proper on the outside but it is complete chaos on the inside. Patients complain about how they are treated and sometimes there are no beds available. Mfuleni clinic is too small to accommodate patients. Simelela rape centre was closed down and now there is only one rape centre in a large township like Khayelitsha,” said Majola.
According to TAC, South Africa has one of the largest antiretroviral (ARV) programmes in the world with over two million people on ARVs in the public sector. However drug stock-outs are occurring across the country. Patients and nurses in the Eastern Cape, Gauteng, Limpopo and Mpumalanga continue to report medicine stock-outs at local clinics including shortages of ARV drugs.
Other demands included having condoms in schools in an effort to reduce the risk of HIV infection and change the mindset and attitudes on sexuality and the youth; that steps be taken to make post-exposure prophylaxis widely available in the province; and for consultation with civil society on national health insurance (NHI) pilot projects and any further NHI related developments.
The large crowd gathered outside the provincial legislature sang as they waited for Grant and Botha. After much waiting, Sigamoney Naicker from the Western Cape education department and Herman van der Westhuizen from the health ministry, accepted the memorandums on behalf of Grant and Botha.
TAC’s Amelia Mfiki said that if the demands were not met, the marchers would come again and again, to the delight of the crowd.
Other organisations who came out in full force to support the march were the Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce, Médecins Sans Frontières, Equal Education and The People’s Health Movement South Africa.
Treatment Action Campaign is an Atlantic grantee.