Turn Around – The Story of South Africa’s HIV Response: FOREWORD

This is an excerpt from a recently launched UNAIDS publication, Turn Around – The Story of South Africa’s HIV Response.

Turn Around CoverFOREWORD by SANAC Chairperson, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and Michel Sidibe, Executive Director: UN Programme on HIV/AIDS

The story of the AIDS response in South Africa can be characterized as a journey from denial to acceptance, dependency to ownership, despair to hope, and impressive results. Since 2009 the country has seen unprecedented political commitment and leadership to address the AIDS response at the highest level.

In July 2016 South Africa plays host, for a second time, to the International AIDS Conference, in Durban. For South Africa, the hallmark of the conference is the dramatic turnaround in the AIDS response in the fifteen years since AIDS2000, which was also held in Durban.

At the turn of the century, South Africa was known to have only a handful of people on treatment through private insurance schemes. Now it boasts a massive treatment programme, the largest in the world, with more than 3.4 million people on antiretroviral therapy (ART). The rate of mother-to-child transmission has dropped dramatically, from 8% in 2008 to 2% in 2015. The country has one the largest domestic investments in AIDS, with approximately 80% of the country’s AIDS programme supported by public funds.

The acceleration of the South African response since 2009 has moved the country to point where the number of patients being enrolled onto treatment each year now exceeds the number of those who are newly infected.

Life expectancy at birth in South Africa has increased from 57.1 years in 2009 to 61.3 yegars in 2012. And approximately 1.6 million AIDS deaths have been prevented since 2005.

The most dramatic decline in AIDS deaths in recent years has occurred among children. None among us will forget brave, inspiring, 11-year-old Nkosi Johnson, who addressed the last International AIDS conference in Durban in 2000. A symbol of resistance to stigma and a moving advocate for treatment for pregnant HIV women, he unfortunately succumbed the following year. But now, in what can perhaps be our best tribute to Nkosi and his legacy, South Africa has between 2009 and 2015 reduced new HIV infections among children by 84% and reduced AIDS-related pediatric deaths by 90%.

And still South Africa forges ahead, as it must do. It is one of the first countries in the world to adopt the 90-90-90 Fast-Track treatment targets. In order to translate the targets into reality the country has undertaken a massive planning exercise to develop 90-90-90 implementation plans in each of South Africa’s 52 districts. South Africa is leading the way in terms of its AIDS response.

The 21st International AIDS Conference is the ideal platform from which to share these and many other successes with the continental and global community. The achievements of the South African AIDS response inform and contribute to the global response. This timely publication documents the journey that the country has undertaken since the very early days and the contribution that the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) has made along the way.

The journey is not over and there is still much work to do to achieve our shared goal of ending the AIDS epidemic as a public health threat by 2030. This publication provides us with an opportunity to pause, reflect, and renew ourselves for the continuing journey ahead.

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