A high-profile AIDS activist, who had vowed not to take HIV antiretroviral drugs until the general South African population had access to them, announced Monday he has begun taking the potentially lifesaving medications. Zackie Achmat, an HIV-positive law student from Cape Town, changed his mind following the government's instructions to the health ministry to plan for the possible distribution of anti-HIV drugs to the public, the South African Press Association reported. South African government officials had previously refused to provide the drugs to the country's HIV-positive citizens through the public health system.
Diagnosed in 1990, Achmat, 41, has been leading a new wave of activism to help South Africa's nearly 5 million HIV-infected people. Only one of every nine HIV-positive people in the country can afford anti-HIV medications without government assistance. Achmat's group, the Treatment Action Campaign, has chosen civil disobedience to pressure the government into offering free anti-HIV medications throughout the country. Since August 2002, Achmat has suffered two chest infections and peripheral neuropathy, a degenerative nerve disorder common among people with advanced HIV disease.