This is an archive of the Treatment Action Campaign's public documents from December 1998 until October 2008. I created this website because the TAC's website appears unmaintained and people were concerned that it
was becoming increasingly hard to find important documents.

The menu items have been slightly edited and a new stylesheet applied to the site. But none of the documents have been edited, not even for minor errors. The text appears on this site as obtained from the Internet Archive.

The period covered by the archive encompassed the campaign for HIV medicines, the civil disobedience campaigns, the Competition Commission complaints, the 2008 xenophobic violence and the PMTCT, Khayelitsha health workers and Matthias Rath court cases.


Campaigning to put Health before Profits and Patients before Patents

By Sharon Ekambaram,

TAC Coordinator Gauteng

The drug AZT and its potential to dramatically reduce the risk of mother-to-child HIV transmission has featured prominently in the news in 1999. The ongoing stand-off between the Department of Health and the manufacturer of AZT, Glaxo Wellcome, is allowing thousands of avoidable infant HIV infections. But there is another side to these developments. At last, the question of access to medicines that can prevent HIV infection in infants and treatment for people with AIDS, is being discussed.

In December 1998 the Treatment Action Campaign [TAC] was launched. TAC aims to raise public understanding about the availability and affordability of many HIV/AIDS treatments. It is campaigning against the assumption that AIDS is automatically a death sentence. The struggle for access to treatment, is -- for the first time -- being presented as crucial in the struggle to contain the spread of HIV. Access to treatments, TAC argues, will provide an incentive for many people to volunteer for HIV testing. This will improve openness about HIV and begin to break-down the stigma around AIDS.

In 1999 TAC has organised a series of public protests. A country-wide "Fast to Save Lives" was held on the 21st March 1999, Human Rights Day. 50 000 signatures have been collected in support of the call for access to treatment. In April a picket was held outside the head office of Glaxo Wellcome calling on the company to publicly disclose the profits they make on AZT and what the cost price of producing AZT is. Glaxo has not provided any of this information.

Two days later, a meeting was held with Dr Zuma, the Minister of Health, to seek reasons for the Government's refusal to make AZT available in the public health sector. This meeting led to the following Joint Statement:

Before the formation of the TAC, the government had taken all the flack on the issue of lack of affordable treatments -- particularly in the dispute over AZT. There is no doubt that government does have a major responsibility -- and that this responsibility is still not being prioritised. Billions of rands spent on submarines and the formation of a Ministry of Intelligence seem madly irrational, in the face of an epidemic that could claim a million lives in the next decade -- posing a much greater threat to national security.

However, the TAC agrees with the government's argument that care and treatment for HIV/AIDS must be seen in the context of improving public health and sustainable access to essential medicines and services for impoverished communities. Because of socio-economic inequity people are dying of AIDS and many other preventable diseases without dignity, privacy, care and other fundamental human rights all over South Africa. Finding the resources to transform this blight is much more than just the responsibility of government. This recognition is clear from the agreement reached between the Minister and the TAC on April 30th.

Why should women support the TAC and the demand for AZT for pregnant women?

One TAC's objectives is to persuade Glaxo Wellcome to sell AZT to government at cost price -- to ensure that all pregnant mothers who have HIV can obtain AZT (if they choose to). According to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) "over half a million babies are infected with HIV every year, most of them in sub-Saharan Africa". In the absence of preventive interventions (such as a short course of AZT), the risk of mother-to child HIV transmission in countries like SA ranges from 25 to 35 percent among women with HIV.

However, recent research has shown that if a pregnant woman begins an anti-retroviral regimen one week before delivery, and she and her newborn follow a postpartum regimen for just one week after birth, the chances of the infant becoming infected are reduced by 37%. Even at the present price offered by Glaxo, the cost of providing AZT for this regimen would be as little as R400 per person. This is as cheap as providing the measles vaccine!

The impact of childbirth on women is enormous. To have to deal with the reality of having given birth to a child who has HIV, affect women's self-esteem and sense of self worth. This simple demand can galvanise all those who are campaigning on issues affecting women. It provides a concrete objective, which if won, can reduce the impact of HIV on women and also reduce the emotional trauma of seeing one's child die at a very young age. It must also have a positive impact on women if it offers choices putting her in greater control of her body, her life and of the life she produces.

The Drug Companies must be called to account!

However, the focus of campaigns for treatment and care cannot be just the government. The drug companies have literally got away with murder. They have created and indulged themselves on the HIV/AIDS gravy train. Their profits speak volumes. According to reliable reports, in 1998 the chairman of Glaxo received a salary package of nearly R20 million! . Now it is time for them to be called to order.

On the surface companies like Glaxo or Bristol Meyers Squibb successfully market themselves as willing to take extraordinary steps to fight AIDS. But underneath, they fight a vicious struggle to defend their markets, their patents and their profits - regardless of the cost.

South Africa is an unfortunate victim of this. In 1997, Parliament passed the Medicines and Related Substances Amendment Act. Clause 15 (c) of this Act permits the government to authorise the manufacture of low-cost generic versions of high-price essential medicines -- which are patented by major Western drug companies. This is called compulsory licensing. Under international trade agreements, a country can engage in such "compulsory licensing" to combat a national emergency. With 22.5 million people living with AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa, the emergency seems real enough.

The law would also permit the government to buy drugs that are sold more cheaply in other nations, a practice called parallel importing. According to the Act:

The Minister may prescribe conditions for the supply of more affordable medicines so as to protect the health of the public, and in particular may:

  1. prescribe the conditions on which any medicine which is identical in composition, meets the same quality standard and is intended to have the same proprietary name as that of another medicine, but which is imported by a person other than the person who is the holder of the registration certificate of the medicine already registered and which originates from any site of manufacture of the original manufacture as approved by the council in the prescribed manner, may be imported;

  2. prescribe the registration procedure for, as well as the use of, the medicine referred to in paragraph (b).

US Reaction

Trans-national drug companies are up in arms about this legislation. Their concern is that it will undermine their power to manipulate prices and thereby reduce their profits. In South Africa they are challenging the constitutionality of the legislation. Abroad, the drug companies have found a friend in US Vice President Al Gore who is chairman of the United States/South Africa Bi-national Commission. Gore has pressurised the government to repeal the Medicines Act and is threatening sanctions against South Africa. On April 30 1999, the US Trade Representative placed South Africa on its "watch list" for unfair trade practices, citing the government for its attempt to abrogate patent rights.

These actions are crude attempts to protect the powers of Glaxo Wellcome, Bristol-Myers Squibb and company to set prices that deny the government the power to ensure affordable treatment for all. In the words of the Consumer Project on Technology, who are leading an international campaign on this issue, "The United States is literally asking South Africa to abandon the lives of millions of infected people in order to receive reductions in US barriers to trade or economic aid."

Questions to the US Government

On 5th July 1999 at 12h00 the TAC will be holding a protest outside the US Consulate in Killarney. This will mark the start of our campaign against the US government pressure. TAC will be posing the following questions:

  1. How would the US government react if 20% of all sexually active young people in the United States were living with HIV/AIDS?

  2. What would the US government do if another country was trying to prevent the US government from accessing essential HIV/AIDS drugs?

  3. Is the US government influenced by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufactures Association (PhRMA) representing big American Companies like Glaxo Wellcome, Bristol-Meyers, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson?

  4. Does the US government consider the South African Medicines Act to be against World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules? If so, why has the US government not asked the WTO to make a ruling on the dispute?

The Treatment Action Campaign will hand over a memorandum and expect a response by the 30 September 1999. TAC will call on the USA to publicly withdraw its opposition to the Medicines Act and urge the government to use this act to make affordable treatment available for all people living with HIV/AIDS.


TAC will sustain this campaign through pickets and protests, and through education and training. At it's first national conference held in Gauteng in June, TAC decided to form sectoral committees in the labour movement, the health sector, the religious sector, with the youth, women and other such sectors. These specialised structures will work to mobilise their constituencies towards:

These objectives will be won through:

  1. Promoting treatment awareness and treatment literacy;

  2. Campaigning for AZT for pregnant women with HIV;

  3. Campaigning against profiteering by drug companies and other bodies

We make an appeal to all sectors of society including the trade union movement, the health care sector, and all structures of civil society to join the Treatment Action Campaign. Unite to fight for affordable treatments! Put health before profits!

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