Saturday, February 10, 2007

A Global Movement

There is something wonderful about being part of a global movement, particularly when your work is in solidarity with the people whose lives you are working to improve, tethered to a reality beyond the gilded marble halls of Congress. Yesterday’s National Executive Committee meeting of the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) was so inspiring, a real reminder of why I do the work I do. Paul and I were invited to observe the meetings with a range of South African partners and TAC’s coordinators from the 6 provinces in which they work. The day began with a long delay, because it was the opening of Parliament. This meant that there was a series of parades, a band in kilts (why kilts I have no idea!) and then all three branches of the South African National Defense Forces and the police. After a long while motorcades made their way down the street and to Parliament, where President Mbeki gave his State of the Nation speech. He mentioned HIV/AIDS, apparently for the first time. But whether this will lead to actual change remains to be seen. The pomp and circumstance was typical of governments everywhere, and only reminded me of the incredible economic disparities in and around Cape Town, and in all of South Africa, for that matter. It was very interesting to stand in the 15th floor window and watch this hoopla on the street below.

When the meeting finally began, we had a fascinating briefing on the current court case in India against Novartis, a case that will hopefully result in lifesaving (and expensive) AIDS drugs being available in cheaper generic versions (for more information see the website of Doctors without Borders, We also learned about Extremely Drug-Resistant Tuberculosis (XDR-TB), which appears to be exploding here in South Africa. TB is the number one killer of people living with AIDS, so a version of TB that essentially cannot be treated is a very serious concern. And then one of the women present began a beautiful song, I believe in Xhosa but possibly in Zulu. A minute later, almost everyone was on their feet singing along, clapping, dancing in their places. A reminder that we were in Africa, and a spirited beginning to a really powerful day.

The folks from TAC discussed the current political climate here, but also the programs they will focus on in 2007. One of these is violence against women and children. TAC is supporting a few of its members in their court cases regarding rape, trying to ensure that the investigations and cases are carried out appropriately and in full respect of equal dignity and human rights. This program is called Access to Justice. I really like that name; it mirrors the common AIDS-related phrases “access to comprehensive prevention” and “universal access to treatment,” situating violence against women and children squarely within the context of HIV/AIDS.

Throughout the day I really came to feel that the work we do at the Global AIDS Alliance—fighting for evidence-based prevention and universal treatment access, for primary school for everyone, for the protection of orphans and other vulnerable children, and of course, for the prevention of and appropriate response to violence against women and children—is exactly the work that people in South Africa need, and are doing themselves. I felt empowered. And inspired to go home and continue this work. And hope that I get to come back to South Africa again to see my new friends and get a renewed lease on my conviction that we can do something about this terrible pandemic that will eventually kill some of these new friends, and will certainly kill many people that they know and love. It’s good, righteous work, and I’m glad to be in an international community of people doing it together.

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