23 October 2012

South Africa: Task Team Praises SA for Progress in Tackling HIV/Aids

Cape Town — Kenya's Minister of Gender, Children and Social Development Naomi Shaban has praised South Africa's success in tackling HIV and bringing down its mother-to-child infection rate.

Her comments were in line with the release earlier this month of a report by the Medical Research Council (MRC) which revealed that South Africa's HIV programmes had helped raise the country's life expectancy, which increased from 56.5 years in 2009 to 60 years last year.

Shaban, who is heading a high-level task team made up of African delegates visiting South Africa to assess its gender-equality interventions, also praised South Africa for raising the CD4 count that women must reach before they can access anti-retrovirals.

Said Shaban: "I must say, the South African government has done a lot, yet the challenges are huge and need to still be address."

Among these challenges, South Africa needed to ensure that infected mothers survived longer and must address the high number of teenage pregnancies in the country, she said.

Lois Chingandu, executive director of Safaid and the team's civil society representative, said a lot of positive things had taken place in South Africa in tackling HIV/Aids.

But she said the country still needed to address gender-based violence such as hate crimes against lesbians, the harassment of sex workers by police and community members and the high number of unplanned pregnancies.

The review, which forms part of the Accelerated Agenda for Women and Girls on HIV and Aids, which South Africa signed in 2010, will enable the Women, Children and People with Disabilities Department to identify weaknesses and gaps in its gender equality interventions.

The high-level regional taskforce for women, girls, gender equality and HIV for eastern and southern Africa will visit various sites across the country, including those in Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape.

South Africa is the first country that the task team is visiting and the task team aims to complete its report within the next two weeks.

Minister for Women, Children and People with Disabilities, Lulu Xingwana, said the task team will be visiting a clinic in Khayelitsha tomorrow, will meet with members of Parliament and the Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT), as well as other non-governmental organisations.

The team is also expected to meet with women's groups in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal Premier Zweli Mkhize as well as with King Goodwill Zwelithini, who has encouraged young men to undergo circumcision.

Xingwana said her department was short-staffed but pointed out that she was able to secure additional funding from the fiscus, which would enable her department to increase its head count, following a recent meeting with the Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan.

She said it was important that policies that protect the rights of women and children were passed in South Africa.

The Women Empowerment and Gender Equality Bill, which was gazetted in August for public comment, will help to her department to monitor the gender equality laws more effectively, she said.

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