A boy participates in a health awareness run to mark World AIDS Day. World AIDS Day is observed every year to raise awareness in the fight against HIV. Picture: Mahesh Kumar/AP

Johannesburg - Brand South Africa has encouraged all citizens to play their part and get tested for HIV and know their status to mark World Aids Day on Saturday.

Commemorated on December 1 each year, World Aids Day presents an opportunity for humanity worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV, to show support for people living with HIV, and to commemorate those who have died from an Aids-related illness, Brand South Africa said in a statement.

"[United Nations Aids] UNAIDS reports that South Africa has the biggest and most high-profile HIV epidemic in the world, with an estimated 7.2 million people living with HIV in 2017, and that the country accounts for a third of all new HIV infections in Southern Africa."

Conversely, the country had also made significant strides in its mission to tackle the epidemic. According to UNAIDS data released in 2018, South Africa had made vast progress in getting people to test for HIV in recent years and was now almost meeting the first of the 90-90-90 targets, with 86 percent of people aware of their status. The country was also reported to have the largest antiretroviral treatment (ART) programme in the world, which had undergone even more expansion in recent years with the implementation of "test and treat" guidelines.

“In 2017, there were 270,000 new HIV infections and 110,000 South Africans died from Aids-related illnesses. South Africa has the largest antiretroviral treatment (ART) programme in the world and these efforts have been largely financed from its own domestic resources. In 2015, the country was investing more than US1.34 billion annually to run its HIV programmes. The success of this ART programme is evident in the increases in national life expectancy, rising from 61.2 years in 2010 to 67.7 years in 2015,” the UNAIDS report noted. 

Brand South Africa spokeswoman Thoko Modise said, “Although the country has achieved momentous milestones we still have a long way to go. We need to strengthen our behavioural strategies , which involves applying a wide range of strategic interventions and conducting actions that modify negative behaviour and encourages positive behaviour through educational or motivational techniques.

“In addition, reductions in HIV transmission need widespread and sustained efforts by all stakeholders including government, business, and civil society. We collectively need to reinforce the mix of communication channels to disseminate messages to motivate people to engage in a range of options to reduce risk.

“Play your part, get tested for HIV and know your status. The only way to know your HIV status for sure is to get tested. A person who is HIV positive may look and feel perfectly well, and be unaware that they are infected,” Modise said.

Brand South Africa, in collaboration with Freedom Park and its partners - Love Life, South African National Aids Council, and Africa Music Central - would host the World Aids Day concert at Freedom Park in Johannesburg. 

Activities would include a Zero HIV/Aids Park where HIV/Aids prevention success stories, blood donations, voluntary testing and counselling, sharing information, updates on the latest discoveries in the treatment of HIV/Aids, and HIV/Aids dialogues would provide a safe space to share ideas on combating Aids. Brand South Africa would promote a pledge for all citizens to get involved in making decisions that would reduce new infections.

African News Agency (ANA)