Activists hold march to protest lack of access to HIV treatment
By Kali Villarosa, BAI Contributing Writers
DURBAN, SOUTH AFRICA — As the last overflowing buses pulled onto Dr. Pixley Kaseme St. recently, chants and cheers already filled the air. Passengers disembarked onto the large Durban, South Africa, roadway packed with thousands of people, ranging from elders holding canes to babies strapped to their mother’s backs, most wearing HIV Positive t-shirts, regardless of their status.
Participants in the “Quality Treatment for All” march spoke numerous languages and U.S., Mexican, Swedish, Peruvian and South African flags blew almost in rhythm to the many dancers moving through the crowd of mostly women.
The march marked a water-shed moment, a reminder of unfinished business, as young and old joined the protest marking the 16th anniversary of the 2000 Durban International AIDS Conference (and March), the first time the international AIDS gathering had taken place in Africa. Though the atmosphere was positive, the march itself sent a clear message; even 35 years after the beginning of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the fight to end AIDS is far from over. The Treatment Action Campaign, the March leaders and organizers, created a list of demands calling for:
- Quality and comprehensive access to treatment for all people living with HIV;
- A functioning public healthcare system;
- An end to patented medication which makes the price of medicine unaffordable to many;
- A stop to criminalization and discrimination of key populations, such as injection drug users, gay men, sex workers and women and girls;
- Increased international funding for AIDS.
Despite the seriousness of the demands, the protesters’ cheers, laughs and diversity, sent another message: though the epidemic remains, the energy and willingness to fight have not been lost.
“I am here to support the women and children of South Africa,” stated Andiswa, a 16-year-old Durban student who attended with her grandmother.
“We want to help by encouraging them. We don’t want anyone to turn back at this point,” said Faith, from Kenya, who wore a matching Keep the Promise shirt with her 10-year-old daughter.
“We want more commitment, we want more effort, and we want everyone to get together to get rid of AIDs.” Kali Villarosa is entering her junior year at Skidmore College, interning this summer at the Ford Foundation, and this is her third time reporting from the International AIDS Conference.