Johannesburg - Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa has lauded the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) for its outstanding role in mobilising South Africans to defend their right to life, to health and to dignity.
Speaking at the TAC’s 6th National Congress held at the Lesedi Cultural Village, Sterkfontein, on Thursday, Ramaphosa said: "For nearly two decades, it (TAC) has been at the forefront of the struggle for social justice, human rights and universal health care."
Those in attendance included Health Minister Dr. Aaron Motsoaledi, TAC board chairperson Qondisa Ngwenya, national chairperson Nkhensani Mavasa, general secretary Anele Yawa and Section27 executive director Mark Heywood.
The deputy president said since its formation, the TAC had been on the right side of history.
"Our accomplishments, as a country, in expanding HIV treatment and improving life expectancy is an inspiring story of civil society activism and vigilance. It is a story of life, hope and possibility – where collaboration and united action overcomes untruths and mistrust," said Ramaphosa.
"Despite the progress we have made, our journey towards an AIDS-free generation is far from over. There are still many hills to climb and many obstacles to overcome."
He warned that the co-infections of HIV and TB remained a real and immediate threat.
"Many people are trapped in fear of knowing their HIV status. Many still die needlessly because they have to travel long distances to reach a clinic to access treatment. Many people become infected because they do not have condoms or because they are not able to make informed decisions about their sexual behaviour," said Ramaphosa.
"We live in a society that continues to discriminate against people living with HIV or those infected with a curable disease like TB. Ours remains a society that stigmatises patients. It ostracises vulnerable groups like sex workers and the LGBTI community.
"The advances we have made in turning the tide against HIV and TB are daily undermined by poverty, inequality and lack of economic opportunities. We must confront the high rates of HIV infection among adolescent girls and young women."
He said South Africans must be alarmed about the challenges posed by the emergence of the "bluetooth" phenomenon among nyaope drug users, in which they use dirty syringes to exchange blood so as to extend the "high effects" from one person to another.
"We must acknowledge that our health system is under great strain and that it is struggling to meet the needs of our people. As SANAC (South African National AIDS Council), we expect this crucial TAC congress to provide direction on what we need to do, together, to address these challenges."
He said organisations like the TAC had a major role in particular in influencing the provincial plans which were funded and led by provincial councils.
"They must challenge provinces to set bold targets and to lead inclusive responses. The TAC needs to use its grassroots organisational capacity to make sure that its achievements at a national level are replicated in the provinces and districts."
The deputy president said despite the difficulties, despite weaknesses and shortcomings, progress was being made.
"It is significant that since September 2016, we have removed CD4 count as a condition for ARV treatment. In June 2016, we began providing pre exposure prophylaxis to sex workers in several programmes. We remain committed to expand the provision of PrEP to all vulnerable young women."
Last year, the government launched the "She Conquers" campaign to address HIV infections and unwanted pregnancies and ensure girl children stay in school. The campaign is also aimed at reducing the shameful scourge of sexual and gender-based violence.
"Already, we are receiving positive feedback on how social partners are succeeding in creating employment and economic opportunities for young girls and women."
Motsoaledi has reported that in the 22 priority sub-districts where we the campaign has been rolled out, more than 230,000 adolescent girls and young women have taken the HIV test. Of those tested, 18,000 were positive and were immediately linked to care.
"We look to the TAC to intensify its support for the implementation of the NHI so that no South African is excluded from quality health care."
- African News Agency (ANA)