The push to mobilize wealthy countries to help African nations fight AIDS depends much on putting a human face to the numbers. Rose Thamae, an HIV-positive activist from South Africa, did just that Monday night.

“Having heard that this university is one of the foremost and most powerful, we need a movement with students to spread the word that South Africans will be able to take [AIDS] medicine correctly,” Thamae said to a packed Linsly-Chittenden lecture hall. “Do you think I don’t want treatment? Do you think I don’t want to live for my baby?”

Thamae was responding to those who think AIDS drug programs should only be introduced slowly in developing countries because of the complexities involved in taking the drugs. Thamae was one of three South African AIDS activists who joined various AIDS campaign organizers for a campus teach-in Monday night about AIDS in South Africa and how Yale can contribute to the fight against the epidemic.

Since Yale began negotiating with Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. last month to relax the patent for its AIDS drug d4T in South Africa, the topic of AIDS in developing countries has garnered increased interest on campus. Yesterday’s teach-in was the first attempt by campus activists to provide a public forum on this issue.

“We wanted to spark interest both in continuing to follow up on the d4T story and also more broadly in terms of the scientists having a say in patent policy,” said Fran Balamuth MED ’03, a Graduate Employees and Students Organization organizer who helped plan the event. “And it was very inspiring to see people around the world joining to fight this same fight.”

The teach-in featured a number of individuals closely involved with the fight to make AIDS drugs more affordable in poor countries. Lungi Mazibuko and Mpho Babusi, who work on giving HIV-positive women a greater voice in South Africa, joined Thamae, an activist who works to help HIV positive youth in Johannesburg. Mazibuko and Babusi expounded on the stigma associated with contracting AIDS and the need to provide shelters for women turned away from their houses for being infected.

“They say in South Africa that it’s a woman’s disease,” Babusi said.

Toby Kasper, coordinator for Doctors Without Borders’ Access to Essential Medicines campaign, followed the South African activists. Kasper is currently working to make AIDS drugs more affordable in South Africa and was closely involved with the original letters written to Yale in February requesting the University to relax its patent for d4T in South Africa.

Kasper used a computer presentation to break down the pandemic into colorful bar charts. He said before the South African government can begin designing the complex infrastructure required to administer the drugs, it needs to be able to afford the drugs.

Following Kasper, Amy Kapczynski LAW ’03 and Balamuth outlined what can be done at Yale in response to the past month’s events surrounding d4T. After their talk, Balamuth and Kapczynski told audience members to add their names to a list if they wanted to become involved with other students working on the issue. Students are hoping to create specific groups to address Yale’s patenting policy in general, the case of d4T at Yale in specific and a number of other issues that have surfaced with Yale’s recent dealings with AIDS in Africa.

“There is work still to do in making sure Yale carries through in increasing access to d4T in South Africa and extending this to the rest of the world too,” Balamuth said.

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