SA ‘making progress against HIV’

26 April 2013

South Africa is moving closer to reducing its HIV infection rate, with the country having experienced a decline in Aids-related deaths in the last three years, says Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe.

Responding to a question in the National Assembly in Cape Town on Wednesday, Motlanthe said that though South Africa needed to do more to tackle TB and HIV/Aids, several inroads had already been made.

Motlanthe, who chairs the SA National Aids Council (Sanac), said the transmission of HIV from mother to child had decreased significantly over the last three years, falling from 8% of infants to 2.7% nationally.

The country had also seen a decline in Aids-related deaths, particularly for those aged between 25 and 35 years old, he said.

Progress had been made on the back of better policies and the implementation of the world’s biggest antiretroviral (ARV) programme, with 1.9-million South Africans now receiving ARV medication.

Since April 2010, over 20-million South Africans had been tested for HIV, while more than 10-million had been screened for TB, he said.

Earlier this month, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi introduced the fixed-dose drug combination, allowing those on treatment to take one ARV pill on a daily basis instead of three or more tablets.

“This will improve the adherence to treatment and reduce the costs of providing treatment to the large number of people who are eligible,” Motlanthe said.

South Africa’s HIV/Aids and TB treatment programmes now include the School Health Programme, launched by President Jacob Zuma last year, while the government has also begun treating inmates for HIV and TB.

Motlanthe said that over the last three years, a series of studies and reviews had helped the government to craft an evidence-informed programme, in the form of the National Strategic Plan for HIV, TB and STIs 2012-2016, to tackle HIV/Aids and TB.

The country’s provinces, he said, could learn from the “war rooms” set up by the KwaZulu-Natal provincial government, which include various stakeholders, from community members to health workers.

Motlanthe said one challenge that the country still faced was that the infection rate of young women had not fallen at the same rate as that of young men. He attributed this to a particular problem in South Africa in which large numbers of older men, or so-called “sugar daddies”, were having sex with younger women.

This, he said, required a very targeted response by the country.

Motlanthe said the National Council against Gender-based Violence was in the process of being fully constituted by Minister for Women, Children and People with Disabilities Lulu Xingwana.

He said he had agreed to a request by Xingwana that, as chairperson of Sanac, he become a patron of the council. “My role is to thus endorse and be a messenger of their work, which is still being fine-tuned,” he said.

Motlanthe said the country should strive to make the home a secure and safe sanctuary for women and children, pointing out that when one looked at the statistics on violence against women and children, much of it was perpetrated in the home itself.