South Africa’s HIV response

21 October 2014
Anna McCormick

STOPAIDS, London, hosted a discussion with Mark Heywood, executive director of South Africa’s Section 27 and co-founder of Treatment Action Campaign on 13 October 2014. Here, UK-based NGOs and researchers working on HIV learned about the state of the South African health system and its impact on HIV prevention and responses. Like Ebola, Mark explained, HIV has huge impacts on society and needs increased political action, media attention and funding. The meeting confirmed that:

  • HIV remains a threat in South Africa and elsewhere
  • the international community must increase its response

“We see a growing complacency in the global response to HIV and yet we are nowhere near tackling the social drivers of the epidemic in South Africa.” Mark Heywood, Section 27 and Treatment Action Campaign

Founded in South Africa in 1998 to campaign for access to AIDS treatment, the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) united public health and former anti-apartheid activists. HIV, they realised, was creating a new set of inequalities. For the first time, HIV became a political issue in South Africa, gained media attention and attracted popular support and donor funding. Between 2000 and 2007, TAC achieved a string of victories, in particular against the pharmaceutical companies. Leveraging the power of their organised movement, TAC succeeded in driving down the prohibitive costs of anti-retroviral treatment (ART) and thus saved hundreds of thousands of lives. In 2005–06, life expectancy for those living with HIV in South Africa was 49; today, it stands at 60.

“The epidemic has been turned around by TAC,” says Mark, “but it has not been overcome”. TAC makes up the biggest women’s movement in South Africa; 70% of TAC’s 8,000 members are women. In a situation where a million girls are raped each year in the country, TAC recognises that HIV will continue to be transmitted at an alarmingly high rate unless funding is directed into tackling the social drivers of the epidemic.

Because of South Africa’s new status as a middle-income country, TAC’s funding is shrinking. This threatens the organisation’s efforts to ensure access and adherence to treatment. Mark’s meeting at STOPAIDS was an initial step in a fundraising campaign. To get involved – and send a message of solidarity to South Africans living with HIV – contact the campaign.