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More than 400 people, most of them women, marched on the Gauteng Department of Health and Social Development on Thursday demanding basic health services in their communities.
“Do not gamble with our lives,” some of the placards read.
Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) members came from all corners of Gauteng, singing the same struggle songs and echoing the same complaints – drug shortages in clinics, namely ARVs.
Arriving on Sauer Street shortly after noon, many donned white-and-yellow “HIV positive”-branded T-shirts and bibs.
“On national television, the Minister of Health Doctor Aaron Motsoaledi said the depots are fully stocked with drugs, but it’s not the case,” said community leader, Mlungisi Dlamini.
There are 2 000 TAC members of 33 branches across Gauteng.
TAC deputy chairman Lotty Modjadji read the memorandum out to the crowd, before handing it to a representative of the department. “We have multiple reports that clinics don’t have adequate supplies of ARVs.”
He said blood samples took months to be processed and there was a shortage of nurses across the board. “This problem is not unique to Gauteng. It’s a national issue,” said Modjadji.
He said clinics were giving patients replacement ARVs, with severe side effects. “No to Stavudine. We need Tenofovir now!” the marchers cried. “We are dying,” a woman shouted.
The TAC has given the department 14 working days to respond.
“We are tired of coming back here,” TAC Ekurhuleni deputy chairwoman Portia Serote shouted over the loudspeaker. “This is our constitutional right to life. Section 27 says everyone has a right to health-care services.”
Department of Health spokesman Simon Zwane observed the march from the periphery. “These claims are based on a historical understanding. The situation of ARV availability has improved over the past two months,” said Zwane.
“We used to get supplies from two companies. This has now increased to four,” he said.
Zwane said budgets were no longer an issue and that all suppliers had been paid in April.
He acknowledged that when there were no regional supplies of an ARV, a clinically approved substitute would be given.