9 April 2010
South African President Jacob Zuma took the lead in the country’s biggest ever HIV counselling and testing campaign on Thursday, taking an HIV test in a bid to encourage all South Africans to do the same.
Speaking at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, where he took the test, Zuma said the government had recently unveiled a new approach to combating HIV/Aids in the country, part of which involves a massive campaign to get all South Africans over the age of 12 tested for HIV.
“We made a call in December to mobilise all South Africans to get tested for HIV,” Zuma said. “We reiterate that every South African should know his or her HIV status.”
The launch date for the campaign has been pushed back from 15 April to a date soon to be announced, as Zuma will be out of the country on a working visit to the United States and Brazil.
Zuma stressed that HIV tests remained entirely voluntary and confidential. “People do not have to take a public test or release their results if they do not want to do so. Everybody’s privacy and dignity must be respected by health professionals and the public in general.”
“We know that it is not easy,” he said. “It is a difficult decision to take. But it is a decision that must be taken by people from all walks of life, of all races, all social classes, and all positions in society. HIV does not discriminate.”
At the same time, Zuma said South Africans had to work together to fight the stigma attached to the epidemic. “We must also address the problem of discrimination through lifting the silence and shame that is associated with the virus and the disease.”
‘No longer a death sentence’
In case a person’s test results turned out to be positive, Zuma said, “HIV is not a crime and is no longer a death sentence. That is why we announced new measures in December, to enable South Africans to manage the condition and live productively with it in the event of testing positive.”
On World Aids Day in December, Zuma announced that South Africans infected with Tuberculosis (TB) and HIV/Aids would, as of April 2010, receive free antiretroviral (ARV) treatment when their CD4 count was at 350 or less.
Previously, state-sponsored treatment was available only when one’s CD4 count fell below 200.
In addition, all pregnant HIV-positive women with a CD4 count of 350 or less, or with HIV/Aids symptoms regardless of their CD4 count, now have access to treatment.
In his Aids Day speech, Zuma emphasised the importance of all South Africans taking responsibility for their actions, saying that prevention remained South Africa’s most powerful and effective weapon in the fight against HIV/Aids.
“Let this be the start of an era of openness, of taking responsibility, and of working together in unity to prevent HIV infections and to deal with their impact.”
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