Cancer in South Africa - TAC, Section 27 and BreastSens link up in new social struggle

South Africa's is alive with debates on a myriad of issues ranging from; the soundness of our Constitution (sparked by "The Painting"), to the protection of medical patents (sparked by the Aventis v. Cipla matter before the Supreme Court) and the emerging Cancer Alliance (the leaked Charlotte Maxeke Hospital  cancer drug procumerement bungles).


All these issues merit the media attention they have received in the past 10 days. It is exciting that the nation is starting to honestly examine the state of our national health system, especially the chaos in the public health system.


The lead treatment access movement, the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), is back in the fray as a friend on the court in the matter between Aventis(& Others) vs. Cipla (& Others). This case is key for the South Africa patients' right movement for 3 reasons.


First, it is refuelling the energy of the Treatment Action Campaign, a lead post apartheid civil society movement that tackled and held the Mbeki government answerable for its HIV/Aids denialism and used the Constitution to win universal ARVs treatment access for all South Africans who need them. The victory was wide ranging - medicines and HIV/Aids lobby participation in policy development and implementation structures.


Second, a broader socio-economic rights movement, Section 27, has been birthed to educate ordinary citizens about the Constitution. So that they can ensure that all democratic institutions and elected officials carry out their public mandates in an accountable and transparent manner.  This is a great grassroots growth in a country whose citizens has increasingly grown complacent and dejected with politics.


The re-emergence of a people's voice is critical to stop the country from sliding too deeply into the abyss of corruption and poor service delivery in key sectors like healthcare, education, housing, security and equality issues (especially gender and sexual orientation protections).


Third, and most important, the TAC's treatment access voice has matured to include other diseases than HIV/Aids. They are currently before the Supreme Court as friends of the court - to enforce treatment access rights of PEOPLE with CANCER who need affordable access to the drug Docataxel (mostly used to treat breast, prostrate and non-small cell lung cancer). The cost of cancer drugs is prohibitive and many South Africans do not have the means to procure these life saving treatments.


BreastSens has worked with breast cancer patients in the public healthcare sector and has seen first hand the onerous burden and the undermining of treatment access caused by various barriers to care, especially poverty and unemployment. We have first hand, how mothers often have to juggle their treatment needs and family's basic survival needs - like food and shelter. 


We respect and encourage medical innovation, Patent Rights and free market principles, however, we cannot stand silent and indiferrent when the corporate profit motive outweighs human rights and social justice. Low to middle income countries, which include most of AFRICA, account for 72 per cent of global cancer deaths yet only 5 per cent of cancer control resources are allocated to stem the pandemic.


BreastSens is a member of the Treatment Action Campaign because we firmly believe that affordable access medicines to treatment and all the relevant social services necessary to cope with a life threatening condition is a fundamental human right. Whether one survives or dies from CANCER should not be "an accident of geography", as Princess Dina Mired of Jordan and Co-Chair of the Global Task Force, eloquently put it.


Food for thought:

South African demographics. Population of 49 milliion. 79.2 per cent African. More than 63 per cent female. About 40 per cent live in rural areas. Women bear the brunt of quadraple challenges: inequality, unemployment and poverty.


A cancer procument document from Charlotte Maxeke was recently leaked. DA Health MP Mr. Jack Bloom and members of the newly formed Cancer Alliance lamented the hardships suffered by patients. and Gauteng Department of Health spokeman Mr Simon Zwane said, paraphrase, "we should not exaggerate [the CANCER medicines crisis].  


What do grassroots people with cancer say?


*Coming soon - CANCER VOICES from the margins. 



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