2 December 2008
South African Deputy President Baleka Mbete, Health Minister Barbara Hogan and UNAids executive director Peter Piot joined with Aids activists, traditional healers and religious leaders to mark World Aids Day at Sahara Stadium in Durban on Monday.
The event represented an unprecedented show of unity between South African government and civil society, and South Africa and the international Aids community, in the battle against the epidemic.
“It is only through working together to tackle the challenges of this epidemic that we can make progress,” Piot said in a statement on Monday.
“The theme of ‘Leadership and Unity’ chosen by South Africa is a powerful tool that helps bring together the many sectors and resources needed to make progress against HIV and Aids.”
Mark Heywood, head of the Aids Law Project and deputy chair of the South African National Aids Council (Sanac), told The Times: “Today is an unprecedented show of unity, and it is not fake unity. For the first time, the government is taking this epidemic seriously and is doing something about it.
Observing a moment of silence at noon on Monday, in a workplace stoppage initiated by Sanac, South Africans across the country paused to consider their personal role in the country’s response to HIV/Aids, and to remember those who had died from the disease.
“Have I tested for HIV? If not, why not? Have I talked to my family and children about preventing HIV? If not, why not? Do I understand about HIV medicines and how they work?” were among the questions Sanac urged South Africans to ask themselves.
“HIV and Aids can be prevented if we stand together and respect ourselves and others,” Health Minister Barbara Hogan told the crowd at Sahara Stadium.
Citing the case of an eight-year-old boy suffering from Aids-related tuberculosis and meningitis who died while on a waiting list for drugs, Hogan said: “We could have given his mother, and Thando, a chance to live healthier lives with the love of his grandmother. We could have given nurses and doctors a chance to save his life.
“Therefore, as government, we now pledge to urgently scale up the mother-to-child HIV prevention programmes.”
Deputy President Baleka Mbete, who is also head of Sanac, said that for South Africa to achieve its goal of halving new HIV infections by 2011, “we must own up, spread and practise the key messages for the prevention of new HIV infections in the country.”
South Africa has the largest number of HIV-positive people in the world, with some 5.7-million people live with HIV in the country. With nearly half a million people receiving antiretroviral treatment, South Africa also has the largest antiretroviral treatment programme in the world.
Sanac called on South Africans on Monday to “recapture the spirit that defeated apartheid” by uniting against HIV/Aids and taking action to prevent new infections and deaths from the epidemic.
“World Aids Day is not a day for celebration,” Sanac said in a statement. “There are still too many deaths; HIV is still beating us.”
World Aids Day “recommits us all to take action,” Sanac said, adding: “In South Africa, that means personal recommitment to ourselves, our loved ones, our friends, our comrades.
“It means a recommitment to the five-and-a-half million people in South Africa who live with HIV that we will make health and support services available so that they do not die of Aids.”
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