Dept to encourage leaders to go for HIV testing

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Cape Town - In a bid to raise awareness around HIV and AIDS, the Health Department plans to encourage South African leaders in various fields to undergo HIV tests in a hope that others will lead by example.

This is according to Minister of Health Aaron Motsoaledi, who presented shocking statistics to the media on Tuesday on the effects of the pandemic.

His presentation followed President Jacob Zuma's address last month to the National Council of Provinces where he emphasised the need to move with urgency to tackle HIV and AIDS.

Motsoaledi said his department would approach sports, business, entertainment and religious leaders to undergo testing, adding that both the President and the Cabinet had agreed that having a strategy of leading by example was the best way forward.

He believed it was possible to reverse the rate of infections and highlighted the case of the Western Cape which had seen a reduction in the number of early childhood deaths after introducing dual therapy in 2003.

"I still believe South Africans can unite and stand together against this disease," he said, adding that prevention remained the key focus for government in its fight against the pandemic.

To this end, government was distributing 400 million condoms a year, but this would be massively increased for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, he said.

About one percent of South Africans had Tuberculosis (TB), said Motsoaledi, who pointed out that because 73 percent of those that had the disease were also HIV positive, government was looking at treating HIV and AIDS and TB in the same centre.

The government was also looking at the possibility of procuring more affordable anti-retroviral medicines to treat those infected, he said.

Added to this, the Health Department received an additional R900 million for the HIV and AIDS treatment programme by the Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan in his medium-term budget.

Statistics presented by Motsoaledi revealed among other things that 40 of the country's 52 district municipalities had average antenatal prevalence rates of over 20 percent, with four district municipalities recording rates of over 40 percent.

The worst affected district municipality is uMgungundlovu in KwaZulu-Natal with an average antenatal prevalence rate of 45.7 percent, with Gert Sibanda the worst affected in Mpumalanga with a rate of 40.5 percent.

Motsoaledi said Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal had the highest average antenatal prevalence rates in women, while the Western Cape, followed by the Northern Cape, had the lowest rate.

A graph presented by Motsoaledi showed how in recent years a massive peak had developed such that by far the majority of deaths now occurred among those aged 25 to 40.

"In any species, death is not supposed to be occurring at the prime of our lives, but it is," he said.

Just 0.7 percent of the world's population resided in South Africa, but the country represented 17 percent of all HIV and AIDS cases, or 23 times the global average, he said.