AFRICA: AIDS activists kicked out of Tanzania during World Economic Forum

NAIROBI, 7 May 2010 (PLUSNEWS) - The Tanzanian government has deported several AIDS activists and cancelled a demonstration to protest decreasing funding for HIV at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in the commercial capital, Dar es Salaam.

"We met with [South African singer and AIDS activist] Yvonne Chaka Chaka and gave her our memorandum to present to the leaders attending the WEF; shortly thereafter we were arrested," Bactrin Killingo of the International Treatment Preparedness Coalition (ITPC), told IRIN/PlusNews.

"We spent four or five hours at the police station making statements, after which we were escorted to our hotels to collect our belongings and then to the airport, where we were deported." None of the activists, who were from a variety of African countries, were charged.

A planned national workers' union strike prompted Tanzanian President Jakaya Kiwete to cancel all demonstrations this week. "We had received permission to hold the demonstration [on 5 May], but later received a letter cancelling it ... Only ten of us delivered the memorandum - it was not a demonstration," Killingo said.

Among those detained were: Paula Akugizibwe and Lynette Mabote from the AIDS

and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa; James Kayo and Netsayi Dzinoreva from the ITPC; Linda Mafu and Soraya Matthews from the World AIDS Campaign; Sydney Hushie from the Global Youth Coalition on HIV/AIDS; and Michael O'Connor from the Global Fund to fight AIDS, TB and Malaria.

In a statement, the activists condemned the Tanzanian authorities' "complete disregard for

the right to freedom of expression in respect of the conveyance of a message as critical as this".

Tanzanian government officials were not available for comment.

Dwindling funding

A recently released ITPC report, Missing the Target, [http://www.itpcglobal.org/images/stories/doc/ITPC_MTT8_FINAL.pdf], said several African countries - including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mozambique, South Africa, Uganda and Zambia - had indicated that their government-run antiretroviral (ARV) treatment programmes were turning patients away because of cuts in both domestic and external funding.

"We are seeing dwindling funding from large donors such as PEPFAR [the United States President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief]; we have also seen government contributions to the Global Fund [to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria] reduce," Catherine Tomlinson, senior researcher for South Africa's Treatment Action Campaign [http://www.tac.co.za], told IRIN/PlusNews.

"We have laid the groundwork for achieving universal access [to HIV prevention, treatment and care]; now is not the time to backtrack on funding commitments and undermine the gains we have made."

The past five years have witnessed a ten-fold increase in the number of people on life-prolonging ARVs; an estimated 2,925,000 Africans were on ARVs at the end of 2008, according to the UN World Health Organization [http://www.who.int/hiv/pub/tuapr_2009_en.pdf].

The activists also demanded that African governments adhere to a pledge made at the 2001 African Union Summit in Abuja, Nigeria, to dedicate 15 percent of their national budgets to health.

"Where is this money?" asked James Kamau, coordinator of the Kenya treatment Access Movement, at a press conference in Dar es Salaam on 4 May. "The true colossal mistakes are the wasteful spending habits of many governments who prioritize wars, luxury for politicians, and sports over social spending."

The activists urged leaders at the World Economic Forum on Africa to set a clear, time-bound roadmap to achieving the Abuja target, and called on the G8 and G20 groups of advanced and emerging economies to fully replenish the Global Fund.

They also urged US President Barack Obama to ensure that the PEPFAR supported the addition of new patients to treatment programmes.



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