20 January 2009

Achmat praises parliament

An emotional Zackie Achmat today praised Parliament’s effort to empower and educate MPs to be more effective in the fight against HIV/Aids.

An emotional Zackie Achmat, leader of the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), today praised Parliament’s effort to empower and educate MPs to be more effective in the fight against HIV/Aids.

Achmat was part of a high-powered panel, chaired by the Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly, Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, who addressed a media conference in Parliament at the launch of a training seminar for members of parliament from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the East African Community (EAC) on increasing access to treatment for HIV/Aids.

Achmat, who has fought extensively for the rights of people living with HIV/Aids, said it was the first time he had been invited to speak in Parliament since 2003.

A little bit speechless
“I must say I am a little bit speechless and the Speaker nearly brought tears to my eyes. It’s the first time since 1999 that I have heard such strong and clear direction from our Parliament nationally.

“Our Parliament doesn’t spend enough resources to train our MPs to understand the law, the science, the community consequences, the evidence on HIV and I think for me, this Inter-Parliamentary Union in the region which carries the greatest burden of HIV globally is very important.”

A moral demand
In her address, Speaker of the National Assembly, Gwen Mahlangu-Nkabinde, called on MPs to make a “moral demand” for the affordability of drugs to treat HIV/Aids. “If we say healthcare is a human right, we need to also match that with the actions that would make it a human right.”

Achmat said the first line treatment used in South Africa to treat HIV/Aids (including the ones he was taking) was already outdated, and needed to be replaced by more advanced drugs which had fewer side effects.

According to Achmat, government needs to urgently address the overpricing of female condoms, through regional procurement, in order to increase availability. He also said the need to speed up the production of medicines to treat complex multidrug-resistant tuberculosis, and new methods of testing for tuberculosis was “more than an emergency”.

Former health minister, Madlala-Routledge, pointed out that while the cost of drugs to treat HIV was a major obstacle, it was possible for countries to by-pass the protection of intellectual property rules and to import cheaper generics, during health emergencies.

(Thania Gopal, Health24, January 2009)

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Dr Sindisiwe van Zyl qualified at the University of Pretoria before working for an HIV/AIDS NPO in Soweto for many years. She was named one of the Mail & Guardian's Top 200 Young South Africans in 2012.

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