19th November 2001

Dear Friends



On the 26-27 November 2001, South Africa will witness a court case that can help to alter the course of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in our country. The Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) calls on your support and solidarity to save people from unnecessary death and suffering. We ask you to encourage our government to change its tragic course in the HIV/AIDS epidemic. At heart, this court case is about giving women a choice and children a chance.

Across our country nearly 300 000 women with HIV will give birth this year. The majority do not know their HIV status and are not given information or medicine that can reduce the risk of HIV transmission to their children. As a consequence, at least 70 000 children will be infected with HIV during labour and through breastfeeding. They will suffer an unnecessary painful death.

The government has the resources and the opportunity to give women a choice to look after their own health and a chance to prevent their infants from becoming infected with HIV. But, it has dithered and reacted unscientifically, unlawfully and with no morality to calls for the implementation of MTCT prevention programmes.

For more than five years civil society, initially led by the AIDS Law Project and the AIDS Consortium, have lobbied government to implement MTCT programmes to reduce HIV transmission to infants. Since December 1998, TAC has led the call for government to take action. We have petitioned, negotiated, written appeals, organised workshops and conferences, publicised the need for government action -- all to no avail.

In March 2000, Judge Edwin Cameron made the following appeal to the government in the presence of the Minister of Health at a national conference of people living with HIV/AIDS:

"Since 1994, very detailed and careful scientific and medical studies have been done on how to reduce the risk that a mother with HIV will transmit it to her baby during or after birth. The overwhelming scientific consensus is that effective anti-retroviral medication can be made available in a developing country to reduce transmission. Every month in our country, approximately five thousand babies are born with HIV. Medicines exist that, now, can reduce this figure by half. Economists have done detailed studies that show that this medication can be made available cheaply and affordably. Their studies have also shown that, from a purely economic point of view, it is better to save young babies from getting HIV than to let them fall sick and die of AIDS, and that intervention will save the country money.

"So overwhelming is the medical, scientific and economic consensus on these points, that many people find it almost impossible to understand why our Government is still delaying the immediate implementation of programs to prevent mother to child transmission of HIV. If government commits itself to helping pregnant mothers, it will throw a beam of hope onto the entire epidemic. It will throw a beam of light onto all our lives. If babies can be protected from exposure to HIV by giving medicine to their mothers, then all of us can hope that progressive implementation of an accessible drugs programme will save many more lives in South Africa and in our continent as a whole."

The government has spurned every opportunity to do the right thing. Despite the TAC's unshakeable support for the government during its court battle with the drug companies, TAC has had no option but to defend the rights of poor women with HIV and children against the government.

For TAC, legal proceedings were our last resort - they give people who have lost faith in the government's commitment to address all aspects of the HIV/AIDS epidemic a legitimate and legal avenue to defend their constitutional rights to healthcare access, life, dignity and equality. We are not opposed to our government. We are opposed to the misguided and unconstitutional actions (or lack of them) on HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment. You can consult our court papers at www.tac.org.za

In August, we appealed publicly to the Government to abandon its opposition to the orders TAC is seeking from the court: access to Nevirapine for women and children who need it (under proper medical supervision), and a clear national programme to prevent mother to child HIV transmission. The Minister of Health spurned this appeal.

We therefore appeal to every person in South Africa and across the globe to support TAC's court action. We urge you to write letters of support to TAC at the following address: TAC National Office Town One Properties, Sulani Drive, Site B, Khayelitsha. Tel: +27 (0)21-364 5609 Fax: +27 (0)21 364 6653 Email: info@tac.org.za

Where possible, TAC requests supporters in South Africa to attend the hearing in court or to join demonstrations. We request that international allies arrange meetings with the South African Embassies to urge the South African government to settle the court case.

Please do not hesitate to make further enquiries.

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