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Media Centre  |  COSATU Speeches

Address by Willie Madisha, COSATU President, at the TAC Rally for Affordable and Equal Treatment, Soweto, 18 March 2001

Address by Willie Madisha, COSATU President, at the TAC Rally for Affordable and Equal Treatment

18 March 2001, Soweto

Thank you chairperson;

I am very honoured to participate in this rally on "affordable and equal treatment." COSATU is proud to be associated with the Treatment Action Campaign. In its short life span the Treatment Action Campaign has achieved a lot to make us proud. The Cong ress presents an opportunity to reflect on these achievements and plot a way forward to deal with the challenges emanating from the struggle for affordable and equal treatment. Prior to discussing what is our commitment to deal with the question of afford able treatment it is perhaps important to look at some of the achievements registered by the TAC.

One of the spectacular achievements of TAC is to place the question of treatment at the centre of the HIV/AIDS debate. For many years the debate centred almost on the question of behavioural change without addressing the concerns of people living with HIV /AIDS. In our collective psyche we all believed that it is not possible to treat at least the opportunistic diseases let alone reverse the viral load through anti-retroviral drugs.

Linked to the above, the TAC has succeeded to raise public awareness around the Prevention of Mother-to-Child-Transmission. TAC's persistence and relentless struggle is beginning to bear some fruits - government has agreed to embark on a trial to utilise a nd assess the effectiveness of the Nevirapine.

Another phenomenal achievement was the spotlight and buzz created around the affordability of drugs, particularly HIV/AIDS related drugs. Through this campaign TAC has highlighted the heartless profiteering of the Pharmaceutical companies; which put profi ts before people. The recent case lodged by the Pharmaceutical manufacturers Association is yet another ploy to protect super-normal profits at the expense of the health of the vast majority of the poor in South Africa and throughout the developing world. The social mobilisation seen around the Court Battle is testimony of the efforts of TAC over the years around affordability of drugs. The moral battle has been won but the challenge is now to translate this into tangible benefits for the vast majority o f people living with HIV/AIDS. We cannot afford to relax our vigilance and become complacent - the war still has to be fought. The announcement by Pfizer that it will donate Diflucan to government and the recent announcement by Bristo-Myers Squibb (BMS) to reduced the price n didanosine and stavudine; while significant; they do not detract from the broader objective to achieve cheaper drugs.

It is important to celebrate and highlight TAC's organisational cohesion and activism. TACs has one of the elaborate networks for research, information; home-based care and support; counselling. This was achieved through a deliberate programme of partners hip with service providers, community organisations; and international support. This organisational cohesion needs to be nurtured and supported. Without stronger organisation the battle for affordable and equal treatment will be lost. It is for this rea son that we should invest in building a strong organisation.

In a nutshell TAC has emerged as a force to be reckoned with on HIV/AIDS related issues. Through advocacy; campaigns; research and coalition building it has mounted pressure on government and the drug companies. No one can accuse TAC of being a paper tig er - it is indeed a fighting organ.

This rally takes place against the backdrop of three significant events; namely the Pretoria High Court Case lodged by the Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Association; the announcements by Pfizer and BMS; and the parliamentary debate on the declaration of a s tate of emergency on HIV/AIDS. It is on the latter issue that I would to spend some time.

I have listened carefully to the Presidents response to the DA's question on the declaration of a national emergency on HIV/AIDS. First, the DA's opportunism should be condemned - it is playing a political football with a national catastrophe. Its aim is not to genuinely achieve the same objectives as TAC including cheaper drugs. The underlying objective of the DA is to embarrass government and score political points because they believe the HIV/AIDS is tantamount to government's Achilles' heels.

Secondly; government's failure to live up to expectations by declaring HIV/AIDS national disaster must be seen as a missed opportunity. Perhaps we need to reopen the debate with government on this matter so that we can emerge with a bold plan to combat th e HIV/AIDS pandemic. Nonetheless, it is frustrating that there is no sense of urgency on the part of government to deal with the matter head on. Sadly, government position of HIV/AIDS is too cautious and at times incoherent. In particular, government la cks a coherent treatment strategy and for many years time was wasted on the effectiveness on some of the drugs or alternatively on the affordability of HIV/AIDS drugs. Regardless of the Court Case government has dragged its feet in implementing the Medici nes and Related Substances Control Amendment Act. This can lead to a situation where government announcement are met with cynicism or ridicule. It is therefore urgent for government to work with all of us in developing a clear plan of action to combat HI V/AIDS. This is our democratic government and hence we place our faith in the government to take decisive action on the question of HIV/AIDS.

Such decisiveness is not defined purely through declaring HIV/AIDS a national disaster but in essence is about a coherent national plan and political will to carry out the plan. Unfortunately; the call for a state of emergency has either been deliberately misunderstood or twisted. For this reason we need to clarify what we mean by this call. When we call for the declaration of a state of emergency we mean that HIV/AIDS should be regarded a national disaster that threatens our future. This does not entai l limiting "civil rights" as would be the case during political turmoil. It means we need decisive action to ensure cheaper drugs through for example compulsory licensing; parallel importation and so forth. This would also entail broader social mobilisat ion around a commonly agreed strategy to deal with HIV/AIDS. Further it means intensifying the campaign to ensure behavioural change, particularly among the youth.

I believe there is still a case to be made for this call and we must engage government in a constructive spirit. This is one of the commitments that COSATU would like to make to pursue the matter further. Our strategic objective is not the declaration per se but a coherent National Plan to combat the scourge of HIV/AIDS.

The second commitment that I would like to make on behalf of the Federation is to double our efforts and indeed become activists in the true sense of the word. I realise that COSATU was not as active in taking up the HIV/AIDS issues. This commitment is i nformed by the fact that HIV/AIDS affects the poor and the working class mostly. Therefore the demand for affordable treatment has special meaning for the poor and the working class in general. It goes to the heart of access to health care and affordable treatment. As an expression of our commitment we will double our efforts to deal with HIV/AIDS in the workplace. Pursuant to this objective; we will focus on ensuring the Code of Good Practice on HIV/AIDS adopted at NEDLAC in 2000 becomes a reality. We will pay attention to the following questions; amongst others:

  • Discrimination;
  • Benefits;
  • Testing;
  • Treatment;
  • Occupational Health & Safety and Compensation;
  • Ensuring employers comply with the Code and invest adequate resources to deal with the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

The road ahead of us is long comrades - we should not have illusions about the challenges that lie ahead. I have confidence that we will emerge victorious for our society can no longer be complacent on the epidemic that is threatening the future of humani ty. A People United Shall Never be Defeated!

I thank you