Activists protests poor access to treatment in Africa
SOURCE: The Nigeria-AIDS eForum is a project of Journalists Against AIDS (JAAIDS) Nigeria. For more information about us, visit our website: Contact the eForum moderator at: "You talk, we die": Activists protests poor access to treatment in Africa Kingsley Obom-Egbulem Nigeria-AIDS eForum correspondent Nairobi, Kenya The 13th International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa (ICASA) would not have been complete without their presence and action. And they had waited patiently to make their presence and feelings felt. Just as delegates were about settling down to business on the third day of the conference, they rose and spoke, and ensured that everyone heard their voices. Numbering just about a hundred, the activists under the aegis of the Pan-African AIDS Treatment Access Movement (PATAM) spoke, kicked, railed and acted up against many 'enemies' of access to treatment for HIV/AIDS in Africa: Big Pharma, the unfeeling, profit-focused multinational corporations, African leaders who have refused to provide treatment for their peoples. "You talk, we die", yelled the activists, as they mounted a blockage of the VIP and heads of governments lounge at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre, venue of the ICASA. "I am alive today because of access to treatment", cried Prudence Mabele of the Positive Women?s Network South Africa, as she joined others to stage a lie-in on the conference grounds. "AIDS treatment now", the activists chanted as they marched round the premises, making quick stops at the stands of Bristol Myers Squibb, Glaxo Smithkline (GSK), Merck Sharp Dome (MSD), - all major western pharmaceutical companies - as well as that of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Each stand was blockaded and covered up in posters bearing messages: 'Guilty', 'Keep your promises', 'You talk, we die'. "No thanks to these people, Africans are dying because we can't get drugs", said one of the activists. The death, last month, of Togolese AIDS activist Iris Kavege must have infuriated the activists who felt her life would have been prolonged if she had access to life-saving but unaffordable treatment. About 60,000 Africans are said to have access to drugs. This figure is about 1 percent of the actual number of people who need treatment. Several promises have been made to improve the situation but the activists feel it needs to be backed by necessary action so as to prolong the life of PLWHAs. Mercy Otim of the Kenya Coalition for Access to Essential Medicines called this "the height of government neglect." "In Kenya, about 250,000 people living with HIV need immediate treatment or they will die," she said. Ironically, the 13th ICASA was partly sponsored by some of the pharmaceutical companies the activists are protesting against. Could they still be accused on insensitivity considering this gesture? Mohammed Farouk Auwalu of the Treatment Action Movement (TAM) Nigeria described that as a Greek gift. "It is a fraction from the money they made from those of us who are infected that they are using to sponsor these conferences so that they can launder their image. We don't want conferences...we want drugs, affordable or even free drugs". At a press conference called after the protest, the activists also criticized some African governments for holding the view that what people living with HIV is nutrition, not treatment. "We are eating. We have food in Africa, but we cannot eat food alone. We must take drugs to compliment good nutrition," said Patricia Asero of the Kenya Treatment Access Movement. Kingsley Obom-Egbulem Email: