Klerksdorp - South Africa's journey and contribution, as a country, to the vision of zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination, and zero Aids-related deaths has been long and difficult, but progress is being made, Deputy President David Mabuza said on Sunday,
Speaking at the James Motlatsi Stadium in Klerksdorp in the North West to commemorate the 31st annual World Aids Day, he said the event was not only to remember those whose lives were lost to HIV and Aids, but also to celebrate the positive strides that had been made collectively in the fight to end Aids as a public health threat by 2030.
"There was a time when every week and in every community, the pain of losing someone to Aids-related illnesses was a common phenomenon. We are today acknowledged by UNAIDS and others as a global and continental leader in HIV response. This is precisely because we have adopted and implemented the right and comprehensive policies to respond to this epidemic," Mabuza, who is also chairman of the South African National Aids Council (Sanac) told the audience.
"We could not achieve this without partnerships and support from our global partners. That is why, we must appreciate the contribution of the global campaign under UNAIDS that galvanised all of us in political leadership, civil society, and private sector into coherent action."
He also expressed gratitude for the unwavering and continued support from partners, in particular the United Nations family, the United States government through its President's Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (Pepfar) programme, and the Global Fund. "We wish to thank you for your continued support and emphasise that your support is not in vain," Mabuza said.
Sanac had seen the impact its collaborative efforts had had in moving the response forward. The dynamic leadership of all sectors represented on Sanac was testament to its commitment to place the interest of communities at centre-stage.
"We take pride in the fact that in South Africa, government remains the main funder of the country’s comprehensive response by contributing close to 80% of the resources. Today, we count among our victories the fact that South Africa has the biggest HIV treatment programme in the world, with more than 4.5 million people on life-saving anti-retrovirals," he said.
The anti-retroviral treatment programme had resulted in an increase in life expectancy of South Africans and low levels of mother-to-child HIV transmission rates. This meant that millions of South Africans who previously had no hope of sustained quality of life now lived longer and were able to contribute to building "a South Africa of our dreams".
Community action remained an important pillar in making change happen, and in shaping policy agenda and outcomes. If anyone doubted the power of community action in making a difference, they should look no further than the community of Eshowe in KwaZulu-Natal.
This mostly remote and rural community was able to achieve what no other community in South Africa or in the African continent had achieved so far in the fight against the epidemic.
In Eshowe, 90% of people who were infected with HIV were diagnosed, 94% who were diagnosed were on anti-retroviral treatment, and 95% of those who received anti-retroviral treatment were virally suppressed, which greatly decreased the chances of transmission. This meant that Eshowe exceeded the 90-90-90 target set in 2014 by the UN programme for HIV/Aids.
"In the same vein, we are pleased that most of our districts have reached the first 90 of the United Nations’ 90-90-90 target. For us to win and end the dual pandemics of HIV and TB, communities must stop stigmatising and discriminating against those affected and infected by these pandemics.
"Our call for community action to make a difference, is about mobilising our societies to change social attitudes and norms, some of whom are a product of our socialisation.
"These are social attitudes that are at the heart of the ills we are experiencing today, which breed and perpetuate gender-based violence that is being visited upon women, girl children, the elderly, and other key populations. This does not represent the values of ubuntu and human rights that we stand for, and have committed to in our Bill of Rights.
"Therefore, we must bring to an end any form of violence and discrimination against women and girls, including denial of right to protection, access to treatment and care, as well as right to reproductive health," Mabuza said.