South Africa's leading AIDS activist said Monday that he is abandoning his pledge to decline to take potentially lifesaving AIDS drugs, ending an unsuccessful effort to force the government to give its people the medicine. Zackie Achmat, who has been HIV-positive for years, accused President Thabo Mbeki and other officials of not caring about the lives of those infected with the virus that causes AIDS. "I am not going to die because they want us to die," the 41-year-old told a cheering crowd outside an AIDS conference in the coastal city of Durban. Achmat, head of the Treatment Action Campaign, will begin taking cheap, generic versions of AIDS drugs as soon as he gets the appropriate medical tests, said Nathan Geffen, a TAC spokesman.
"We need Zackie to live through this and not become a victim of the government's denialism and arrogance," Geffen said. Achmat's protest--refusing to take the medicine until the government provided it to poor South Africans--attracted worldwide attention and put a human face on the pain caused by the government's often-criticized AIDS policy. An estimated 5 million South Africans are believed to be HIV-positive. Unlike the vast majority of infected people in South Africa, Achmat has health insurance that will pay for his drugs.