A time to reflect, to celebrate, and still, to act
A number of people have over the years played a role in the development of the TAC and our battle for antiretrovirals. There are too many to mention. In the following pages a small group of people who played a role in one way or another and represent various constituencies, share their recollections of the past and their dreams for the future.
Ten years of antiretroviral treatment (ART) in South Africa means 10 years of a life that I almost could not live – a life that almost ended at 22 years. This anniversary represents time for me to reflect, to celebrate that life that I almost didn’t have, to celebrate the life that I now have – but also to remember the journey travelled to arrive at this destination
Many of us choose to celebrate the movement that made the impossible dream possible. The movement that gave voice and allowed us the possibility to dream. The Treatment Action Campaign made me feel human, taught me that I had rights and the power to bring about change.
In June 2004 I started my treatment – AZT/3TC/NVP – and in three months had an undetectable viral load. Since then, I’ve never turned back. ARVs in my life represent both a personal and a political journey, filled with possibilities, challenges and hopes. Ten years of taking ARVs has allowed me a life filled with the joy of being able to enjoy full rights like any other human being – a life filled with the sounds of my two beautiful HIV-negative children that I almost never heard. ARVs have become part of my life, as I take them every day, religiously. They have allowed me to be more certain about the next day, month and year.
There is no doubt South Africa has good HIV policies and political will at a national level: The 2010 HCT (HIV counselling and testing) campaign that led to a national drive to encourage people to test, linked to care and retention. In four years our treatment guidelines have moved the initiation of ART from 200 to 350 and now 500. There has been a reduction of HIV transmission through vertical transmission to less than five percent, and there has been an increase in life expectancy.
The story of the 10 Years of ARVs will be incomplete if I do not mention that there were challenges, and still are. I wish the story was just rosy, with no struggles for access and no-one dying from an illness that can be treated. The past 10 years of ARVs have also been a struggle for implementation and a quality of service for people living with HIV. Let me remind you that the roll out began slowly in 2005 and 2006, with many lives lost during this time. We struggled to establish a decent National Strategic Plan, but succeeded in the end. But I cannot forget the Free State moratorium that led to at least 30 people losing their lives everyday. I cannot forget that young women continue to bear the burden of HIV. I cannot forget that South Africa has high levels of gender-based violence and no comprehensive multisectoral strategic framework to deal with the problem.
What have we learned from the past 10 years? Ten Years of ARVs is not just about good national policies, it is also about the quality of policy implementation at local level, and good leadership that puts the lives of people first. Ten years have taught me that we need radical change to reduce maternal mortality, reduce social and structural drivers of HIV infections in young women, and a multisectoral strategic framework to end gender-based violence. These cannot be achieved without all of us, communities and government, increasing our efforts to create a better future for the current and next generation.
Ten years have also been a struggle for survival for movements like the TAC due to dwindling financial investments in social movements, the struggle for quality healthcare provision, the struggle to eradicate corruption in our society, the struggle for freedom of expression, and freedom of access to public information. The killings and death threats to activists indicate that that we need to guard against undemocratic tactics to silence people. All of these struggles set back all the gains of liberation.
Remember, 10 Years of ARVs is a reminder that if the HIV movement in South Africa did not fight AIDS denialism, this life that I have witnessed and lived could have been a dream. Do your part – save the movement that saved my live, SAVE TAC www.tac.org.za/donate.