Taking stock of the country’s performance in addressing AIDS, Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, noted that over about 20 million South Africans have tested for HIV in the last two years and that HIV transmission from mother to child has dropped to below 3%. But Motsoaledi cautioned that much still needs to be done.
“I don’t want you to tire of it, lest we forget we have got an epidemic here around the world which is going to be with us for the next 30 years – an epidemic that (is) responsible for close to one-third of the deaths in our country. There is no way we can ever forget about it and tire”, Health Minister, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, urged South Africans not to be too complacent about HIV .
With a sense of accomplishment, Motsoaledi said the number of people who have tested for HIV has increased over the last two years, while the rate of HIV transmission from mother to child has dropped significantly in four years and medical male circumcision as a means of preventing HIV infection in men is also gaining momentum.
“We have exceeded the target of testing 15 million people. Twenty million people have been tested for HIV/AIDS since we launched the campaign in April 2010. We have reduced the rate of mother-to-child (HIV) transmission from 8% in 2008 to 3.5% in 2010 and down to 2.7% in 2011. Our medical male circumcision programme, which is under way, is doing very well. We have circumcised 600 000 people who were not circumcised before we launched the programme. That one province of KwaZulu-Natal is dreaming of circumcising, at least, two million males by 2015. From the way it’s going, we think we are on course”, he said.
HIV prevention efforts need increased support as prevention remains the only way to reduce the scourge of the epidemic.
“It is very clear that if we don’t put a lot of effort in prevention, we might not be able to win our battle. It speaks to the need for every individual to know their status”, added Zwo Nevhutalo, the chief operating officer for the South African National AIDS Council (SANAC).
“We are hoping that every South African will develop a tendency to test, at least, once per annum. And I mean every South African, including the young ones”, Health Minister, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, echoed Nevhutalo’s sentiment.
He painstakingly made a point why children should be targeted in HIV testing efforts.
“We are regarded as a country which is very poor in educating children about sex in schools. We need to take this campaign to schools – reproductive health rights, including family planning and sexuality education, HIV counseling and testing in schools”.
“Ninety-four thousand kids fell pregnant last year in schools in South Africa. In addition, 77 000 committed abortions in public hospitals. I don’t know back-street… I don’t know private hospitals… I don’t know private surgeries. The National Confidential Enquiry on Maternal Mortality reported that young girls in South Africa below the age of 18 years contribute to 8% of the pregnancies. But when it comes to death they contribute 36% of the total maternal deaths because they are too young to fall pregnant. They should not have fallen pregnant. Where do you find 18-year olds? Where do you find them? They are at school. And if I have to stop them from dying we need to have a school health programme where we’ll teach young girls. We need to have a reproductive health programme. We need to teach them about sexuality education. Other nations are doing so”, Motsoaledi said.
As of the most recent World AIDS Day into the coming year, Motsoaledi said efforts will also be made to target men to increase their awareness about HIV infection.
“In this fight against HIV and AIDS, men are very slippery… very, very slippery, I must tell you. We’re trying to find a way to capture them. They are slippery in that when we check the statistics on the HCT campaign, 65% of the people who participate – who want to know their status – are women. Five percent are children and only 35% are men”.
“But when we check how HIV/AIDS is propagated, men are central. If you were to theoretically remove men from the planet and put them somewhere for about 10 years, believe you me when you bring them back, AIDS will be gone completely. This is not a joke. It could happen. Scientifically, it’s like that. (It’s) only that humanly and practically, it’s not possible”, he said.
He also committed to making treatment more accessible to those who need it, projecting that within two to three years about 2.5 million South Africans will be receiving antiretroviral therapy.
“At this juncture, we know that 1.7 million (people) are on treatment in South Africa. We have achieved that by increasing ARV treatment sites. The ARV treatment sites in February 2010 were only 490. Today, we proudly mention that we now have 3 000 facilities which are well-equipped to initiate ARV treatment. We are hoping that by 2015 or even 2014, for that matter, the number of people on treatment might reach 2.5 million”, Motsoaledi said.