Ministers and Deputy Ministers,
Deputy Chairperson of SANAC, Ms Steve Letsike,
Civil society leaders,
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is my pleasure to welcome you to the first Plenary of the South African National AIDS Council for 2021. We meet on this virtual platform during one of the most significant months on South African calendar – the 21st of March marks Human Rights Day and the 24th of March marks World TB Day.
Human Rights Day is especially significant as it provides us with an opportunity to highlight some of the most disturbing human rights violations that we need to eradicate – violence against women and children, as well as stigma and discrimination, especially towards people living with HIV and TB.
South Africa, like the rest of the world is still fighting against the devastating effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and its variants.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The Covid-19 pandemic remains an existential threat to all of us; therefore, we need to remain vigilant at all times by taking the necessary precautions.
While we note that the Covid-19 pandemic has had a negative impact on the accelerated national response to HIV and TB, we are encouraged by the catch-up plans, aimed at ensuring that we do not fall behind in reaching our targets.
At our previous Plenary, we discussed in detail the need for these catch-up plans and their importance in ensuring that as a country, we do not fall behind in terms of our response to the epidemics.
We are pleased to note that the Department of Health has designed catch-up plans to ensure the integration of HIV, TB and Covid-19 responses.
We are also encouraged by the sterling efforts of the SANAC Civil Society Forum, which has diligently worked with government and other sectors in the Covid-19 response.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Earlier this week on March the 8th, the world commemorated International Women’s Day. This day is aimed at recognising women activists who continue to dedicate their lives to advocating for social justice, gender equality and social inclusion.
We know that women, particularly young women remain vulnerable to contracting HIV, and we have an enormous responsibility to eradicate those vulnerabilities so that women may enjoy the same rights as men.
We implore all sectors of SANAC to continue in efforts to bring in more men and boys to be part of changing negative cultural norms and standards about the role of women in our society.
All of us have a collective responsibility to fight the scourge of gender-based violence and femicide in our society.
One of the priorities identified by previous Plenary, is the increased support and participation in all SANAC activities, by both the Youth and Disability Sectors of SANAC.
It is common cause that South Africa is largely a country with a young population. As such, most social challenges affect young people the most, especially HIV and TB. The participation of young people in SANAC activities is paramount, since they are better placed to drive positive social behaviour changes and influence each other positively.
Similarly, evidence suggests that people with disabilities are at an increased risk of contracting HIV. This is exacerbated by increased vulnerability to sexual violence and abuse, coupled with limited access to information and healthcare services.
On the 26th of February, the SANAC Inter-Ministerial Committee held its first meeting of the year to deliberate on the matters that are being tabled before Plenary today.
At that meeting, we deliberated on the need to develop a new National Strategic Plan for HIV, TB and STIs as it is a custom every five years. However, in the context of the pandemic, a proposal was made that we defer the development of the new National Strategic Plan to only start in the year 2022. This is to ensure that we devote the year 2021 to implementing a catch up plan to accelerate the implementation of the HIV, TB and STIs programme and attainment of the set targets.
Alongside efforts to accelerate our comprehensive response to HIV and AIDS, TB and STIs, we must support government’s vaccination programme aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19 and ensure that we drastically reduce the number of deaths as a result of this ravaging pandemic.
Government has embarked on a comprehensive vaccination programme that will ensure a reduction in hospitalisations and deaths. Over and above non-pharmaceutical interventions, such as continuous sanitisation of hands, social distancing and avoiding high spreader gatherings, the roll-out of Covid-19 vaccines will help us to reach population immunity so that more people are immune against the virus.
The vaccine roll-out plan has comprehensively mapped out all storage, distribution and vaccination sites that will ensure equitable access to vaccines by everyone irrespective of where they live. The phases of the plan provide clear categorisation, and prioritisation of various population groups to be targeted over the period of the vaccination process until the country achieves the desired population immunity.
The Inter-Ministerial Committee on Vaccines appointed by the President has been seized with providing leadership, and overseeing the roll-out of the vaccination programme. The Department of Health and National Treasury have been leading negotiations with global vaccine manufacturers to ensure that the country has enough vaccines for a successful roll-out.
It has been a very difficult journey given global shortages in the supply of vaccines. We are faced with the difficulties of negotiating onerous and tough contractual terms that have been imposed by the manufacturers of vaccines. For this, we commend Minister Mkhize and the team for the sterling work under very demanding circumstances. In the end, we will overcome as a country.
While the process of vaccine acquisition and procurement will require agility and speed to meet our domestic vaccination demands, we are confident of meeting our targeted projections based on negotiations currently underway to access vaccines through various institutional platforms.
As a country, we have also taken a firm view, and commitment to building our own capabilities for research, innovation, development and local production of vaccines to ensure that we are better prepared for disease outbreaks and pandemics such as Covid-19, HIV and Aids, TB and many other communicable diseases.
We need to leverage existing capacities and foster collaborative platforms for vaccine research and innovation among universities, the scientific community and global partners to position South Africa as one of the leaders in vaccine research, development, and manufacturing.
We are pleased with the contribution that our leading scientists have made in the fight against HIV and Aids, the Covid-19 pandemic, and many other communicable diseases.
Without doubt, SANAC remains an essential institutional coordination platform to deepen multi-sectoral collaboration in the fight against HIV, TB and STIs and Covid-19. For it to be effective, we have a responsibility to strengthen governance systems, and mobilise resources to execute the tasks at hand.
Today’s meeting will receive a report on the appointment of new members to the Resource Mobilisation Committee. This Plenary will also receive a report on SANAC processes of developing the Global Fund request for funding proposal as well as the development of the PEPFAR Country Operational Plan for the year 2021.
This Plenary will also discuss the issue of sustainable funding of SANAC. We must find long-lasting solutions to the funding challenges that SANAC is currently facing and we are encouraged that there is work underway by relevant government departments and the SANAC Secretariat towards addressing the current short-fall and developing a sustainable funding model for SANAC.
As we will be commemorating the World TB day, which provides us an opportunity to educate the public about the impact of TB around the world, and raise awareness about efforts to prevent the spread of the epidemic, the Plenary will deliberate on preparations in this regard. At the level of the IMC, we look forward to a successful World TB Day commemoration, to be held in Mpumalanga on the 24th of March.
We trust that we will have fruitful engagements as this Plenary as we continue working together to make ending HIV, TB and Covid-19 epidemics a reality.
With that I declare the meeting open.