SA Plans Biggest HIV Campaign. 11/11/09
South Africa is to stage the world's largest HIV and Aids counselling and testing campaign as the government embarks on a huge drive to contain the disease that is decimating the population.
November 11 2009
Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi told journalists in Parliament yesterday that the campaign marked the "dawn of a new era" for South Africa.
He said he would ask President Jacob Zuma to take the lead in testing for the virus and said he was mobilising every sector of society including labour unions, religious leaders, schools, traditional leaders, celebrities and sports stars to provide leadership in encouraging people to know their status.
The drive - to be launched on World Aids Day on December 1 - comes against a backdrop of shocking statistics that reveal the damage done by the denialism of the previous administration under former president Thabo Mbeki and ex-health minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang.
They show that young women of child-bearing age are bearing the brunt of a pandemic that has cut life expectancy from around 75 to 51 years in just 10 years, and is causing people to die in numbers that threaten to overtake the birth rate.
Motsoaledi said an SA National Aids Council (Sanac) task team was auditing the country's health facilities to gauge the state of readiness for a massive HIV and Aids testing campaign. It would report back before World Aids Day on December 1.
He said he would not expect Zuma to resist a public examination as part of encouraging people to get tested for the disease.
Motsoaledi said it was Zuma who had recently spearheaded the government's massive mobilisation campaign against the disease to spur South Africans into action to change their behaviour and safeguard their health. He urged South Africans to stand together by declaring war on HIV and Aids.
"We are going to go out to the nation and say 'here we are, we want you to get tested. We've got treatment and we've got everything'. This doesn't mean you force them, but you come and say 'here I am, I want to offer you to know your (HIV and Aids) status'. We need mass mobilisation," he said.
"We need to change our behaviour. It means there must be a massive change in behaviour and attitude by South Africans. We need to undertake a massive and unprecedented VCT (voluntary counselling and testing). That means we need to plan the biggest voluntary counselling system seen anywhere in the world and South Africans have to agree to do that because they need to know their status," he said.
The Sanac task team had found there were 10 000 trained counsellors in the public sector. While the campaign had yet to be costed, Motsoaledi said the private sector was prepared to help fund it.
"I must emphasise that when we test you, we will not know your status. You will know it personally. We will use numbers and codes like when you mark a script during exams," the minister said.
He said this year's commemoration of World Aids Day would be "extraordinary" in order for government to be able to reduce the rate of infection by 50 percent by 2011.
The department was reviewing guidelines on anti-retroviral treatment and its drugs policy because "we are not happy that people are being treated when the CD4 count is 200".
Motsoaledi said HIV/Aids was "weighing heavily" on everyone, as it was clear that the rate of death would soon surpass the birth rate.
He provided alarming figures of how the disease had ravaged the country.
According to Motsoaledi, the number of deaths had "doubled" from 300 000 in 1997 to 756 000, while the birth rate dropped from 1,5 million to 1,2 million.
He said it was "extremely disturbing" that the pandemic was the main contributor to the child mortality rate. Figures showed that 57 percent of children under the age of five were dying from the disease in 2007.
"The rate of death in the first six months increases 15 times when the baby is born HIV-positive," Motsoaledi said.