The politicisation of HIV/AIDS in South Africa: Responses of the Treatment Action Campaign and South African government, 1994-2004 - A literature review

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Centre for Social Science Research

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University of Cape Town

The HIV/AIDS epidemic became a deeply political and politicised issue throughout South African society from the 1990s. The ANC government and the country's most prominent HIV/AIDS movement, the Treatment Action Campaign, engaged one another in a political battle over HIV/AIDS policy and specifically ARVs. Highlighting a number of key international, continental and domestic factors that contributed to the politicisation of HIV/AIDS in South Africa, this review analyses the responses of government and the TAC to this highly charged environment. The literature reveals that the TAC saw HIV/AIDS primarily as a health crisis, appealing to medical science and a campaign to secure free ARV treatment for all South Africans, while the government understood the HIV/AIDS disaster through the prism of race and racism, poverty and South African public health history. Authors have also highlighted the importance of accounting for Mbeki's views and their impact on government HIV/AIDS policy. Four different paradigms are outlined through which the literature can be understood: 'biomedical-mobilisation', 'public policy', 'historical-sociological' and the 'Marxist critique'. There are no 'schools' or 'categories' associated with the TAC's response to politicisation due to their open and non-contradictory actions and therefore no 'problem' to explain. Hence this review will look at two specific TAC responses to what it perceived as government denialism; a grassroots treatment literacy campaign and the establishment of an epistemic community capable of engaging in an intensive media-based 'intellectual campaign'. Finally, this review will suggest that the initial manner in which a social issue is politicised impacts heavily on its outcomes.