Cultural impacts on HIV/Aids explored

Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Kemantha Govender

Durban - A conference is currently underway in Durban to examine the role culture plays in how society deals with HIV and Aids.

Speaking at the Learning and Sharing Conference, KwaZulu-Natal Premier Zweli Mkhize said it was important to identify cultural practices that prevent communities from accessing HIV and Aids services.

"We know that there are certain beliefs which have resulted in a number of women not accessing family planning services," he said.

Touching on the subject of traditional healers, the premier said their role was critical because of their influence on the community.

"Traditional leaders have been instrumental in ensuring the success of Medical Male Circumcision. To date 10 229 males have been circumcised after His Majesty [King Goodwill Zwelithini] announced the revival of MMC," Mkhize said.

The timing of the conference was opportune, as the World Health Organisation released a report recently, highlighting the progress the world is making in the fight against HIV and Aids.

Eight low and middle income countries have managed to give 80 percent of those in need access to antiretroviral treatment. African countries to achieve this included Botswana and Rwanda.

The report stated that the knowledge of one's HIV status remained inadequate and added that testing and counselling programmes were not always tailored to local contexts.

Mkhize said the KwaZulu-Natal government has launched its own tailor-made campaign. "We are convinced that our efforts will make a huge difference at national level," said Mkhize.

KwaZulu-Natal is the second most populous province, with just over 10.4 million people.

"This province also has the highest TB burden in South Africa... There is a higher prevalence amongst the ages 15-29 years, with a rising trend amongst the ages of 10-14 years," said Mkhize.

Hosted by the Aids Foundation of South Africa, the conference will run until Thursday at the Coastlands on Ridge Hotel.

Its theme, Culture and Health in the Context of HIV and Aids, aims to unpack experiences and knowledge in how cultural norms and value systems shape community and individual perceptions of health and illness.

The conference will also examine how gender relations impact on health promotion and the risk of HIV infection.

Several stakeholders, including government, political and religious leaders, civil society and traditional healers are part of the conference.