SA a beacon of hope in aids fight

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

By Minister in the Presidency responsible for Planning, Performance, Monitoring, Evaluation and Administration, Jeff Radebe

Every war has a defining moment that changes the course of the fight. The global battle against HIV/AIDS reached a turning point in 2000 at the 13th Conference in Durban. 

South Africa will have an opportunity to replicate the ground- breaking conference it held 14 years ago that turned the tide in the global fight against HIV and Aids when it hosts the conference again in 2016.

The 2000 International Aids Conference was pivotal in focusing the world’s attention on the impact of HIV/Aids in Sub-Saharan Africa, changing the course of the disease on the continent.

It was hailed as a landmark because of the robust discussions, because of the robust discussions.  It was considered by many as the first major international conference that had put a human face on the epidemic.

The late icon Nelson Mandela closed the conference, saying: “In the face of the great threat posed by HIV and Aids, we have to rise above our differences and combine our efforts to save our people….”

The world was spurred into action. Several countries began to implement lifesaving treatment and prevention programmes that had a marked impact on HIV incidence, life expectancy and, maternal and infant mortality.

As a nation we have much to share with the world from our experience. The key milestones we have reached will enrich our participation in the 2016 International Aids Conference.

In a short time, we moved from a difficult situation to become a global success story - a result of our progressive leadership supported by activists, NGOs, religious and traditional institutions.

We began to change the tide in the fight against HIV / Aids. Our new policies ensured that children younger than one year automatically receive treatment when testing HIV positive.

All patients with both tuberculosis and HIV were placed on antiretroviral treatment.  Pregnant women who are HIV positive also receive treatment to prevent transmission to their infants.

Today our nationwide rollout and availability of antiretroviral drugs has given hope to millions of South Africans as they live healthy and productive lives.

Announcing South Africa’s hosting of the 2016 International Aids Conference, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa said: “South Africa, with the highest number of people living with HIV in the world, has rolled out the world’s largest treatment programme, with over 2.7 million people initiated on antiretrovirals.”

Our bold leadership and initiatives against HIV / Aids was commended by the Joint United Nations Programmes on HIV and Aids – decrease in people dying of HIV- related illness from 300 000 in 2010 to 270 000 in 2011 and 50 percent decline in the number of children aged 0-4 years who required HIV between 2006 and 2011.

We also recorded a 50 percent decrease in people acquiring HIV, from 700 000 in the 1990s to 350 000 in 2011.  Our annual mortality rate of infants and children younger than 5 decreased by 25 percent in the in the past two years.

Despite this progress we cannot afford to become complacent. New HIV infections and the stigma associated with the disease continue to challenge us.   

The government has reinvigorated its fight by committing to the 90 percent approach adopted at this year’s International Aids Conference in Australia.

The Melbourne Conference set a global target which requires 90 percent of people should know their HIV status, 90 percent of those eligible for treatment should receive it and 90 percent of those treatment must be virally suppressed, meaning the HIV virus must not be detectable thus reducing the chance of transmitting the infection.

To meet our commitment we will increase the number of South Africans tested a year and ensure that those who test positive are on treatment. All HIV-positive pregnant women will from January 2015 receive lifelong treatment, regardless of their CD4 status and all HIV positive patients will start treatment at the CD4 count of less than 500.

Our treatment programme is accompanied by strong prevention initiatives such as the distribution of condoms, medical male circumcision targeting 4 million men by 2016 and ensuring safe blood transfusion. All South Africans have to play their part.

Let us educate ourselves and our children about HIV; know how to prevent infection; and ensure we get tested regularly. 

In preparing for the 2016 International Aids Conference, we must intensify our efforts in the fight against HIV/Aids.  Our aim is to reach zero new HIV and TB infections, zero transmission of HIV from mothers to their infants, zero deaths due to HIV and TB, and zero stigma. The vision is achievable; let us strive to attain it.