As the leader of the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC)
, Zackie Achmat has become synonymous with the fight for anti-retroviral treatment. Achmat, a former anti-apartheid activist and an active gay rights campaigner, tested positive for HIV in the early 1990s, prompting him to focus on HIV/AIDS activism. In December 1998, Achmat co-founded the TAC, whose main objective was to campaign for affordable anti-retroviral treatment for HIV-positive people in South Africa. The TAC fights on two fronts — taking on both the South African government because of its slow response to the epidemic and the international pharmaceutical companies that charge high prices for anti-retroviral drugs. The TAC successfully forced the government to make mother-to-child-transmission prevention treatment available in the public sector through a high court decision. It also forced government's hand in providing public sector anti-retroviral treatment by leaking an internal government report that showed treatment would be cost-effective as it would reduce public hospitalisation costs. Achmat became famous for not accepting anti-retroviral treatment until all South Africans had access to it — even declining a request from Former President Nelson Mandela to return to treatment. However, he resumed treatment in late-2003, shortly before the South African government announced a public sector anti-retroviral programme would be introduced. Achmat was selected as one of Time Europe's “Heroes of 2003”
. He was winner of the inaugural Nelson Mandela Award for Health and Human Rights
in 2003. Together with the TAC, he was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2003. Continuing his outspoken approach, Achmat is challenging government to provide better treatment for tuberculosis (TB) and, with other activists, launched a global campaign in November 2008 to promote action against TB.