Zackie Achmat

Ashoka Fellow
Capetown, South Africa
Fellow Since 2003


This profile was prepared when Zackie Achmat was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2003.
The New Idea
Efforts to address the AIDS epidemic in South Africa have not only included care for the infected and affected but also concerted prevention campaigns. But they have fallen glaringly short in treatment of those infected by HIV. The state is hesitant to offer affordable medicines in public hospitals to all needy people and only partially capitulated to public demands after a court injunction compelled it to offer HIV-positive pregnant women medicines to help prevent the transmission of the virus to their unborn children. While such medicines are openly available in the private sector, their prohibitively high costs put them out of reach for most poor people. Aside from seeking support from charity organizations–support that is geographically limited and constrained by available funds–poor people cannot get the medication they need.

Mixed messages as to why medicines are not yet comprehensively available have deeply confused the public, undermining prevention campaigns and other strategies to address the pandemic. As a result, significant headway must be made to stem the pandemic's ascent.

Zackie is championing the development of a grassroots social movement, the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), to demand that the state fulfill its constitutional obligation of guaranteeing a right to life to all citizens by providing affordable AIDS medications. The campaign, largely comprising people from marginalized communities, is employing a series of soft and aggressive strategies aimed at persuading, and if necessary forcing the government to accede to public demands. These approaches will help transform the South African public health system into an efficient and effective service delivery mechanism and empower poor communities to counter more strategically the host of other social challenges they face.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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