Cape Town - The end of HIV as a public health threat is in sight.
This was the rallying call by Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa for the nation to get behind the fight against HIV ahead of World Aids Day on Tuesday.
“As we approach World Aids Day, we are inspired by the many actions taken by South Africans from all walks of life over many years to achieve an Aids-free generation,” Ramaphosa said.
“We have the biggest HIV treatment programme in the world, with more than 3 million of our people on life-saving antiretrovirals (ARVs). People are living longer and fewer people are dying of Aids and TB.”
Life expectancy has also increased from 53 years in 2006 to just over 62 years in 2013, while mother-to-child transmission rates continue to decrease.
“This has been made possible because all of us have worked together and have risen to the challenge,” Ramaphosa said
This year’s theme for World Aids Day is “Rise. Act. Protect”.
“We have made protection our priority, from classrooms to sports fields, from the factory floor to our homes, from our bedrooms to our boardrooms, and all corners of our society.
“We need to spread the word about prevention, encouraging all sexually active South Africans to use condoms. We need to encourage people to test for HIV and TB,” Ramaphosa said.
He said the nation must continue to battle stigma around the disease and create an environment in which everyone can feel safe, and comfortable to test and be treated.
Meanwhile, the City has said the number of people taking HIV tests has more than doubled, while the number of those taking ARVs has massively increased.
About 800 000 people had taken HIV tests in 2014, up from half that figure in 2009, mayco member for health Siyabulela Mamkeli said.
And the number of people on ARV treatment at City health facilities continues to grow - from just under 17 000 in 2010 to nearly 47 000 in June.
“There have been tremendous strides on a number of fronts. HIV/Aids is no longer the death sentence it once was and, through partnerships with various organisations, we have managed to make adhering to treatment much more manageable. That means more people stay on their ARVs and improve their chances of leading a normal life,” Mamkeli said.
One area of concern, however, remains the number of men who are getting tested, particularly older men. Statistics indicate that men account for only 33 percent of all HIV tests in the public sector.
“Far too many myths around HIV/Aids still persist. The more we talk about it and the more people who know their status, the better our chances of reducing the impact of HIV/Aids on our health system. I appeal to the public to get tested once a year.”
Unicef says that since 2000, nearly 1.3 million new infections among children have been averted largely due to advances in the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV.
However, Unicef has noted that the number of adolescent deaths from Aids has tripled over the last 15 years, with 26 new infections occurring every hour among 15- to 19-year-olds.