He has been hailed for as one of the many people who have contributed to ensuring that millions of South Africans living with HIV are on treatment and now he is about to leave the country in pursuit of other interests. But ahead of his departure, US Health Attaché Steve Smith concedes that the battle to reduce HIV infections in SA is still ongoing and will be for quite some time.
Addressing colleagues and industry experts recently, Smith explained that through the United States President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief programme known as PEPFAR, the country has made significant strides in ensuring those affected live longer. The programme was established under the administration of former US President George W. Bush.
"In 2004, lots of people were dying and had been unnecessarily dying for a long time. The PEPFAR programme really showed that the partnership between our two countries, the United States and South Africa, was important and again it was not always an easy road. There were some particular challenges at the time but there was also some inspiration including the true heroes who recognised the need and committed the rest of their lives to the people of South Africa," he said.
Smith went on to say: "I arrived here six years ago and I couldn't believe we had two million people on treatment, We had a government that was supporting science-based public health. It was phenomenal and I was so proud to see the results of that partnership. But I also then very quickly realised that it is a house on fire issue and that we still have public health emergency as it was back then and frankly what it will be for some time to come."
Meanwhile, Smith who also worked with the U.S. Department of State in Cameroon and Haiti leading the HIV programs there recounted some of his experiences dating back to 33 years ago.