Lack of ARVs drives protest in Joburg

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ST TAC HIV Protest IH 812 Ihsaan Haffejee SONG AND DANCE: Members of the TAC protest outside the Department of Health in central Joburg claiming that the unavailability of ARVs is affecting people living with HIV in Gauteng. Pictures: Ihsaan Haffejee

Yusuf Omar

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MORE than 500 people, mostly women, marched on the Department of Health’s offices in Joburg yesterday, 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 rhetoric – ARV shortages in clinics.

Arriving on Sauer Street shortly after noon, many donned white and yellow “HIV positive” branded T-shirts and bibs.

ST TAC HIV Protest IH 809 GIVE US ARVS: Members of the TAC protest yesterday, claiming there are not enough ARVs to go around. They say that they often receive substitutes instead that have awful side effects. Ihsaan Haffejee

“On national television, the minister of health, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, said the depots are fully stocked with drugs, but it’s not the case,” said community leader Mlungisi Dlamini.

TAC deputy chairman Lotty Modjadji read a memorandum out to the crowd before handing it to a representative of the health department.

“We have multiple reports that clinics don’t have adequate supplies of ARVs,” he said.

In addition, blood samples took months to be processed and there was a shortage of nurses.

“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!” some of 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 a loudspeaker.

“This is our constitutional right to life. Section 27 says everyone has a right to healthcare services,” she said.

Department of Health spokesman Simon Zwane observed the march in a black pinstriped suit from the periphery. “These claims are based on a historical understanding. The situation of ARV availability has improved over the past two months,” he said.

“We used to get supplies from two companies. This has now increased to four,” he said.

Zwane said 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.

There are 2 000 TAC members from 33 branches across Gauteng.

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