The Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) was established on 10 December 1998 in Cape Town to campaign for the availability and access to antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) in South Africa. Guided by the principle that health is a fundamental human right enshrined in the South Africa Constitution, it has evolved into a globally distinguished and recognised social justice movement.
TAC has been at the forefront of progressive social mobilisation and advocacy within the health sector in South Africa, specifically in the HIV/AIDS arena. Its model has been effective in bringing about democratic social change in areas such as challenging inequality in access to healthcare, health systems strengthening, universal access to life-saving ARV and TB medicines for all people living in South Africa, and sexual and reproductive health and justice for marginalised communities.
TAC is a membership-based organisation, with more than 8 000 members belonging to a network of 182 branches, and provincial offices in seven of South Africa’s nine provinces. Members elect the leadership of the organisation, which ensures accountability and that its policies reflect the realities on the ground. Branches serve as information hubs for communities regarding prevention and treatment literacy, and offer a space for collective learning and sharing of community challenges.
In addition to large national campaigns, the local activism of TAC’s members is the real life-blood of the organisation. By organising locally, members demand accountability and quality healthcare services where the services are delivered.
One of TAC’s most significant victories was the 2002 Constitutional Court ruling in which the South African government was ordered to provide ARVs to prevent transmission of HIV from mothers to their babies during birth. In the years following the judgment, TAC’s campaigns, advocacy and activism were instrumental in securing a universal government-provided AIDS treatment programme.
Key to TAC’s success was a strategic approach which focused on the following issues:
- Organising and community mobilisation, returning power to ordinary people (building a base of support among people infected or affected by HIV and AIDS);
- Treatment literacy;
- Community advocacy and local activism;
- Creating powerful partnerships with legal advocates, service providers, researchers and advocacy groups, locally, nationally and internationally;
- Strong, visible and active leadership.
Today, South Africa has more than 3.7 million people accessing ARV treatment within the public healthcare sector, the largest global AIDS treatment programme.
In 2007, in large part owing to pressure from TAC, Parliament adopted the National Strategic Plan on HIV, STIs and Tuberculosis 2007-2011.
One of the critical challenges facing organisations like TAC is shrinking funding support, the need to continually monitor implementation of policies, and neglect of duty by the state.
At its 6th Congress in August 2017, TAC identified four key campaigns to focus on:
- Health systems strengthening;
- Monitoring HIV and TB response;
- Access to quality and affordable medicines;
- Local, national and international advocacy and activism.
TAC is credited, not only with forcing the South African government to implement the largest global anti-retroviral programme, but also shifting the public imagination on how grassroots community members can influence national and global perspectives, in particular with insider and outsider monitoring of (government) health services.
Twenty years since its inception, TAC continues to represent users, clients and patients of the public healthcare system in South Africa, and campaign and litigate on critical issues related to the quality of and access to healthcare.
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This is the third NGO profile of my #NGOs4Africa Campaign.