The Treatment Action Campaign (TAC)


The Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) is a social movement that was launched on 10 December 1998, International Human Rights Day. TAC is independent from government and the pharmaceutical industry. The original main objectives of the TAC were to campaign for equitable and affordable access to anti-retroviral (ARV) treatment for people living with HIV/AIDS, to prevent further HIV infections, to promote quality health care and to campaign for a health system that provides equal treatment for all people in South Africa. To educate and train people about HIV/AIDS, especially people living with HIV/AIDS to live healthier lives and to raise awareness about and support for the institutional and legal framework necessary to ensure such aims would be met.


At the time, the costs of anti-retrovirals were very high and only people in the private health care sector could afford the treatment. Many people were dying because they could not afford to pay for HIV treatment and many of the death could have been prevented if the South African government made treatment available at the time as well as if the pharmaceutical industry lowered their prices. TAC believes that the right to quality and affordable health care for all people is a basic right, along with the right to dignity, equality and life. In line with this, TAC campaigned for the prevention and elimination of HIV infections, and for equitable and affordable access to treatment, campaign and support; it advocated for and promoted legislation that supported these rights and it trained representative and effective leadership that could drive campaigns and struggles.

All the actions of TAC were directed towards improving health particularly amongst poor and working class people.

The original TAC mandate in the late 1990’s was built on activism and lobbying with clear aims and objectives. During this period the TAC played a key role in changing mind sets and forcing action from government towards HIV & AIDS. Over a decade the TAC has broadly achieved its original objectives and this could be seen through the renewed government approach to HIV & AIDS in South Africa.

Target participants

The membership of the TAC are people infected with and affected by HIV/AIDS: they include hundreds of volunteers, supporters, scholars, students, pensioners, parliamentarians, political activists and trade unionists, young unemployed women and men both in urban and rural areas, ex-pastoralists, ex-miners, ex-school principals, nurses, teachers, survivalist traders, company directors, academics, a Constitutional Court judge, government employees, people living in shacks in urban slums and people in suburban mansions.  The vast majority of TAC activists are unemployed women aged between 20 and 40. The target population were originally all people infected with and affected by HIV/AIDS; this has now been extended to include people excluded from all decent health care because of poverty.

Focus area

TAC popular education happened mainly in three ways: firstly, through the leadership programme for young activists, secondly, through public campaigns, and thirdly through publications that offered valuable information in easily and accessible format. The TACs Prevention and Treatment Literacy program included education and awareness in health facilities and the community at large as well as training internally to branch members.

Leadership schools’ curricula went beyond issues of health to include how policies are developed and democratic organisations / governments are run. They included topics such as gender, civil society, international institutions, health policy, HIV/AIDS and campaigning skills. There was a clear link made between ‘personal troubles’, such as infection and sickness, and ‘public issues’ such as unemployment, community instability and poverty.

Campaigns were focused on building local and provincial leadership for HIV, combatting quackery, and improving treatment and prevention of HIV and TB. Public campaigns educated through information-giving and participation in protest actions and advocacy. People learned by ‘being there’ and identifying with a cause – and they demonstrated their learning by giving information to members of the public during demonstrations and the like.

Publications included pamphlets and booklets, and regular issues of the magazine ‘Equal Treatment’ that offered invaluable information on ‘treatment literacy’ and gives updates on campaigns and policy. Stories described common experiences and highlighted struggles won by ordinary people. TAC used illustrations and visuals for both entertainment and clarification. TAC also had ‘blogs’ for each province where they gave information, education and highlighted specific issues to the public and its members.


The TAC is defined through practices. The most powerful practice is the wearing of T-shirts emblazoned with writing: ‘HIV-positive’. HIV positive people are indistinguishable yet the T-shirt attaches stigma to anyone, healthy or not. The act of defiance is a life-affirming one, unashamedly positive in the face of mortality – it does not discriminate, denigrate or grade.    

The leadership schools used popular education approaches: starting with participants’ own experiences and questions, building information and insight by linking private issues to public ones, highlighting problems associated with the capitalist economic system, analysing power relations (such as patriarchy). Publications work with tools of ‘edu-tainment’: educating while entertaining.

Understanding of Popular Education

This is very variable: some facilitators (contracted in) are well-versed in the philosophy and methodology of popular education; others struggle to articulate PE.

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