Health-e (Cape Town)

South Africa: Aids Day Celebrated

The Gauteng Health Department commemorated World AIDS Day in the Johannesburg city centre where thousands of commuters pass every day. The Department hopes that its message promoting safe sex will filter through to communities.

World AIDS Day was celebrated at the busy Park Station in the Jo'burg city centre, where hundreds of commuters listened attentively to messages of safe sex. Gauteng MEC for Health and Social Development, Ntombi Mekgwe, also encouraged people to test for HIV so that they can know their status. She says three million people have tested for HIV in the province.

"From those people that were tested, others were HIV-positive, but are on treatment. So, we see more and more people going on ARVs. And we are also extending our ARV sites where people can go to our clinics. We're also extending the hours of operation at our clinics so that if people cannot go there during the day they can do so later. Over and above that we are now also training more nurses to initiate ART treatment to those who are HIV-positive. More children that were discovered to be HIV-positive have also been put on treatment", says Mekgwe.

Mekgwe says one of the challenges the heath service is facing is to get men to access services.

"Out of those three million people that were tested, we are getting less men testing and that is a worrying factor. So, this means we need to work with Sonke Gender Justice and many other organisations like your CONTRALESA, taxi associations and the truck drivers. We need to strengthen our work there. We can't expect a taxi driver to leave his work to go get tested in the clinic. Rather take a mobile unit and go closer to a taxi rank come to places like Park station. Let us go where people are", says Mekgwe.

Religious leaders also spread their message on HIV/AIDS. The South African Council of Churches (SACC) says it wants to spread the message of abstinence, if possible, or to use protection when engaging in sexual activity. The SACC's Reverend Gift Moerane says it is still very difficult to spread the message of safe sex in faith-based communities because most pastors do not know how to approach the subject.

"They are having it tough to talk about sex from the pulpit. They cannot contextualise the message of human sexuality with the Gospel because the Gospel is clear. It put values that people should live by the value of respect. It means you respect yourself first. If you do, then you know not to go and sleep around. That is the message we should tell our members. Sleeping around is dangerous, but we don't talk about it. We cannot run away from talking about human sexuality. Unfortunately, it is still a taboo for some pastors", says Moerane.

Moerane says faith-based communities have an opportunity of spreading the message to a larger audience, and they should use that to their advantage.

"If we can do that every Sunday talk about moral regeneration and values talk to them about not having babies who are going to become orphans or born infected... Let us protect our future by making sure that we practice safe sex.

If every pastor can enter into that contract with their congregants, he would have made an impact and difference", says Moerane.

Some members of the public used the opportunity of the mobile testing units installed at Park Station for World AIDS Day to get tested for HIV. While waiting anxiously in the queue, this is what they had to say.

"It is about time I get tested. The suspense is killing me. Not knowing your status is not on. So, it is about time I took that step so I know from now on where I stand, and in future I will know what to do and what not do to. I want to start living healthily now", said one man.

"Walking around not knowing if you are sick or not is uncomfortable I need to know. I was just passing and I saw this unit. It is important. If I know my status, then I know how to take care of myself", added another Jo'burg resident.

Gauteng Health and Social Development MEC, Ntombi Mekgwe, says her department aims to promote positive messages about HIV/AIDS and safe sex on a regular basis.

"We are crafting a programme that every month we must have a big hype around the issues of HIV. Unlike waiting for the first of December to encourage all of us, we want every month to have senior politicians who will be visiting homes in informal settlements, whether it is the hostels or taxi ranks wherever. That is our plan. We are going to strengthen our work that we do with our people", she says.

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