World AIDS Day 2016 – It is in our hands!
While South Africa has over 3.7 million people on HIV treatment, SANAC Chair, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa raised concerns about the rise in new infections and called on all South Africans to get involved during his keynote address at the 2016 World AIDS Day commemoration held at Sinaba Stadium in Daveyton, Ekurhuleni.
“As we applaud our remarkable achievements in expanding antiretroviral treatment to more than 3.7 million people, as we celebrate the dramatic reduction of mother-to-child transmission of HIV, as we welcome the marked increase in average life expectancy, we must be alarmed that the rate of new HIV infection remains stubbornly high,” he said.
Last year, an estimated 266 000 South Africans became infected with HIV. Each week, there are about 2 000 new HIV infections in adolescent girls and young women aged 15 to 24 years. Deputy President Ramaphosa warned that unless the country acts now to reduce new infections, gains made in the struggle against AIDS will be eroded.
“Unless we act now to reduce new HIV infections, the health and lives of millions more South Africans will be put at risk. Unless we act now to reduce new HIV infections, millions more will be vulnerable to tuberculosis. Unless we act now to reduce new HIV infections, we will struggle to sustain our antiretroviral treatment programme.” SANAC Chair, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa
Prior to delivering the keynote address, Ramaphosa received a Memorandum of Understanding from the Treatment Action Campaign, which called for accelerated efforts on HIV response.
Ramaphosa also engaged with adolescent girls and young woman during an exclusive session where they could voice their concerns to government in a safe and open space. He commended six girls for talking about the challenges they experience, including pregnancy and the issue of a lack of sanitary pads. “We want sex education not only in school, but we also want parents at home to educate their children on sex. Sex education must be spread out in the school curriculum,” he said at the dialogue.
He added that the youth must feel empowered to abstain from sex until they are ready. In addition, young people must have the confidence to insist on using condoms. “They must have the confidence to say: One condom one round,” he said.
The deputy president urged men to get tested for HIV and go on treatment as soon as they are diagnosed HIV positive. “We must challenge the unequal power relations between men and women, particularly older men and younger women.”
The deputy president also spoke out about the victimisation of vulnerable groups like sex workers and members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex (LGBTI) community. “We must stand up for the rights of all people to information, support, health and dignity.”
Government welcomed the ground-breaking HIV vaccine trial that was recently launched. “We must find hope in the scientific advances in treatment, prevention and vaccine research. We welcome in particular the ground-breaking new HIV vaccine trial that has just been launched in this country, and applaud the South African scientists who are leading this critical research.”