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SA Begins Offering Treatment to AIDS Patients

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From the radio newsmagazine
Between The Lines
http://www.btlonline.org
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Between the Lines Q&A
A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints
on national and international issues
under-reported in mainstream media
for release April 10, 2004
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After Long Delay, South Africa Begins Offering Treatment to AIDS Patients

Interview with Dudu Dlamini, of South Africa's Treatment Action Campaign, conducted by Melinda Tuhus

Listen in RealAudio: http://www.btlonline.org/dlamini041604.ram

More people are living and dying with AIDS in South Africa than in any other country. More than a million have died so far and hundreds of thousands of children have been orphaned. An estimated one out of nine people over age 2 is infected. The impact of such statistics on the social and economic fabric of South Africa is almost unimaginable.

In December 1998, the Treatment Action Campaign, or TAC, was launched to demand that the government of President Thabo Mbeki provide anti-retroviral treatment for people with HIV/AIDS, including HIV-positive pregnant women. Mbeki's position had long been that poverty, not HIV, causes AIDS, and he appointed ministers of health who promoted their own unscientific theories and treatments. Under diplomatic and political pressure, the government pledged a roll-out of anti-retrovirals beginning April 1, but later said the start date would be postponed until June because it would take that long to sign contracts with drug companies. In mid-March, TAC threatened to take the government to court to force implementation, and on April 1, a limited distribution of drugs began for the most seriously ill AIDS patients.

In late March, Between The Lines' Melinda Tuhus spoke with Dudu Dlamini, treatment project coordinator with TAC, at her office in Johannesburg. She contracted HIV from her abusive former husband and gave birth to a baby who died of AIDS at the age of 2. She went public with her case in 1999 and began treatment in a drug trial that has restored her health. Dlamini spoke about the government's position on AIDS, in light of upcoming national elections on April 14, and her hopes for tackling the disease in South Africa.

Dudu Dlamini: I think for our government, really, some things they don’t take serious. They were neglecting people, but now, because of this election thing, they are taking everything serious. We hope everything, really, is going to happen. As they say, this roll-out, especially for adults, they are going to give the anti-retrovirals on the first of April this year. We hope they can do that, because people are suffering. I don’t know how many friends I lose, sometimes when I’m taking medications and see someone in need of treatment, sometimes felt maybe I can share, but knowing I can make a mistake because I don’t know the CD4 count of that person. It’s really hard, but we hope our government is going to give the anti-retrovirals for those who are in need. We wish that it can happen, really.

Between The Lines: What is your hope for the future of South Africa dealing with the AIDS pandemic? I’ve read some research just in the last few days that make it sound like because the infection rate, the prevalence, is so high already that even if everybody got treatment tomorrow and there were no new cases -- which of course is impossible -- it would just be so devastating to the country because most people are dying at the beginning or at the height of their economic and family responsibilities. So what do you hope for the country as it deals with this issue?

Dudu Dlamini: What I think will help people is to reduce the discrimination, because people die because of discrimination. It’s one thing that happens, because they know when they’re HIV-positive there’s nothing that can help you. I think it will be like people who have cancer or who have sugar diabetes, because people don’t know that I am HIV-positive and I need to treat this HIV, so it cannot kill me. I think it will reduce. People will stand up and take care of themselves. If you talk of condoms, someone just says, "What is the use, because I’m HIV anyway. Let me die without it." People don’t take the responsibility of saying, "Let us take care of each other. I’ll use condoms to prevent and to protect each other." They'll see the need of using a condom; they'll see the need of taking treatment; they'll understand what is the treatment.

No one will discriminate. No one will say bad things to those people who are HIV-positive because I think even those people who are sugar diabetic, they are taking treatment for a lifetime. It will be the same with anti-retroviral drugs and sugar diabetic people. No one will discriminate because what makes people die like this is discrimination. People are scared to go to clinics, (they) are scared to go to hospital, because of the attitude they get from the hospitals and clinics. If I’m young, 14 or 15 years, I don’t think I’ll be scared to go to the clinic and say, "I’m HIV-positive. But now I have STDs and I need to treat the opportunistic infection." No one would say things to me even though I’m young because it’s nature. We cannot stop people having sex, it’s one thing that happens. But I know if there is this treatment, HIV will reduce.

Between The Lines: You said you went public you’re your status. A few years ago a woman who went public was murdered. How did you come to that decision? Was that a very frightening thing for you to do? And what was the response?

Dudu Dlamini: For me to come out was really the anger I used to have. I didn’t think of what will happen to me, that’s why I think they hold that document, they didn’t even take it out until they see that I’m really okay with that, because they found out there’s an anger behind the disclosure and even now, I’m not scared to go out and say things in public, especially if it can help people who are HIV-positive.

What I think really can happen is if our government and our people can take responsibility, that as we are HIV-positive, we are still human beings. We are still alive. We are people who can produce presidents, produce doctors. We can have children who are negative. There are many children born even today negative. We say, you people take responsibility of taking care of your neighbor. Each and every one you see who is HIV-positive, make sure that that person is a human being.

For more information, visit South Africa's Treatment Action Campaign website at http://www.tac.org.za

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Melinda Tuhus is a producer with Between The Lines, which can be heard on over 35 radio stations. This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines ( http://www.btlonline.org), for the week ending April 16, 2004. This Between The Lines Q&A was compiled by Melinda Tuhus and Anna Manzo.

PRINT INFORMATION: For reprint permission, please email betweenthelines@snet.net.


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