Winning the fight against HIV and AIDS
World AIDS Day on 1 December turned the focus to one of the world's most destructive diseases. The HIV and AIDS pandemic has taken a heavy toll on all aspects of society, claiming the lives of millions of men, women and children.
It has always been concerning to note that our country suffers from one of the highest HIV and AIDS rates in the world. An estimated
7.2 million South Africans (including around 18 percent of people between the ages of 15 and 49) are living with HIV.
Although these figures are troubling, it is encouraging to see that they are vastly improved from those of a decade ago.The widespread efforts to address this grave threat are steadily bearing fruit, as we strive for a society free from the burdens of HIV and AIDS.
Government budgets for HIV and AIDS programmes have increased steadily as we seek to intensify this fight. As set out in our comprehensive National Strategic Plan, a total of R78 billion has been set aside for such programmes between 2017 and 2022.
Nationwide testing programmes have been rapidly expanding over the years. In 2017, we reached our target of 90 percent of people living with HIV being aware of their status, compared to 66.2 percent in 2014. It is important that all South Africans know their HIV status and public servants should lead by example by regularly getting tested and encouraging others to follow suit.
The number of people receiving life-saving antiretroviral (ARV) treatment has risen from 616 000 in 2009 to 3.9 million by 2016.
This makes our ARV treatment programme the largest in the world – bigger than the size of India, Zimbabwe, Kenya and Mozambique's programmes combined. This essential treatment allows millions of HIV-positive South Africans to lead normal lives.
In 2015, we became the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to approve pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), the use of antiretroviral drugs to protect HIV-negative people from infection.
Thanks to initiatives such as year-round awareness campaigns, distribution of free contraceptives, the prevention of mother-tochild transmission programme and the voluntary medical male circumcision programme, the number of new infections has dropped drastically. Over the past five years, new infections have dropped by 44 percent.
Public servants are the face of government and when it comes to initiatives to curb HIV and AIDS, they must be at the fore front. This requires them to both be informed and lead by example. I therefore call on all public servants to ensure they engage in responsible sexual behaviour, fight the stigma attached to HIV and AIDS, and offer comfort and encouragement to those who are fighting the scourge.
A united effort is essential in dealing with HIV and AIDS. We are therefore eternally grateful to the more than 100 000 nongovernmental organisations in South Africa working towards raising HIV awareness, providing support to victims and bolstering government's many programmes.
Minister of Communications Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams.