Thembeka’s work is never done

Posted by Carrie on Wednesday, March 29th, 2006
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Today we had an appointment to meet with Thembeka Majali. She is the TAC coordinator for the Western Cape office. TAC = Treatment Action Campaign. TAC was formed in 1998 and its mission is to make sure people have “greater access to HIV treatment by raising public awareness and understanding about issues surrounding the availability and affordability of and use of HIV treatment.”

This is a group which campaigns for access, for education/prevention, it promotes and sponsors legislation for equal access. It challenges all barriers to access. It educates communities, trains others - it does a zillion great things! I think TAC is really the voice of the people when it comes to HIV/AIDS. This organization forces the government to meet the needs of the people - forces it to stand up to the ideals of the new constitution. TAC works with the government, but will also challenge the government. TAC has worked incredibly hard to make sure that ARV treatment is free and accessible to those who need it. As I’ve said before, U.S. pharmaceutical companies have not made it easy for South Africa to get the needed HIV drugs. It is quite expensive and in the past, these companies have not given their consent for others to make generic brands that would be more affordable. TAC puts pressure on these companies in order to get the necessary drugs. TAC has been successful. However, there is still work to be done. People in South Africa do not have the same access to drugs as we do here in the U.S. My understanding is that that there are three different regiments of HIV treatment in the U.S. - however, right now, there are only two in South Africa. This is not only because of the pharmaceutical companies - but also because of the South Africa government. Because of the work of TAC, ARVs are not accessible to all who qualify- there is a cell count criteria for ARVs - and the demand for testing is going up. This means that TAC has also been able to address the issue of stigma. Unfortunately the demand for testing is still low among those 24 years old and younger. But, another positive is that consultations are increasing-so those who are testing positive are going in for some sort of aftercare because, actually, about half of the number of people who test positive do not enroll in aftercare treatment.

The work of TAC is never complete - they also work on other issues such as rape/violence against women and they are also dealing with the rise in TB. Thembeka’s work is never done - she works incredibly long hours- we so appreciated her time today!

After speaking with Thembeka we met with Di Cooper again - this time to interview her about her life in South Africa and her views about America. I had a great time talking to her - she has so much to say. Her family is Jewish and she grew up in a small area of South Africa- unfortunately I cannot remember the name. Di’s family was always anti-apartheid and so she was taught not to treat others differently for any reason. Di, joined the labor union struggle in the 70s - she worked to help get rights for black unions- most of which had been banned by the government. Of course this group was also anti- apartheid. Di gave me so much information - it was really incredible - she talked of what it was like to live in South Africa during apartheid- she describes it as being horrible - like living in a police state- in fact she herself was arrested and detained for months- on two different occasions. Of course there were others who were detained for years- the laws were set up that way - one of the most publicized - Nelson Mandela. She talked of the Soweto uprising in the mid 70s and the state of emergency in the 80’s - it was living in a civil war. The South African government was basically forced to negociate with the ANC - African Nationl Congress-which had been banned - but simply went underground. The government could not keep up their repression/oppression of the majority. The fall of communism, the pressure from other countries (divesting/economic sanctions), and this wide spread grassroots movement in South Africa-which was not stopping anytime soon- all led to talks, freeing Mandela, and the first free elections in 1994 -She also says that one should not discount the many changes that have occurred since the end of apartheid- there are still many problems, but in order to really see the changes- one must have an understanding of what apartheid was really like. She also explained that those involved in the fight against apartheid are also now involved in other struggles - housing, land distribution, HIV/AIDS, unemployment, violence against women- all are in need of attention. This is just a little of what we talked about.

Tomorrow we are going back to Khayelitsh to meet with Mavis- who we met at TAC early today. She is HIV positive- diagnosed in 2002. She is going to take us around, show us her house, tell us about here clinic, her meds, etc. She’s taking us into her life - she is an amazing women and I can’t wait to learn more about her tomorrow!

Until then!


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