The Conference Chair, Prof Refilwe Phaswana-Mafuya
Premier of KwaZulu-Natal, Mr Sihle Zikalala,
Deputy Minister of Health, Dr Joe Phaahla
All MECs present
The Acting Mayor of eThekwini, Ms Fawzia Peer and other leaders from Local Government
Leadership of Civil Society
SANAC Board Members and Management
Senior Government Officials
Scientists, Researchers and Activists
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We could not join you at the opening of the conference due to pressing government business.
We are, however, pleased to be with you at this official closing to reflect on the journey we have travelled as a country and to share some perspectives on what we need to do in our forward march to end this epidemic.
The gravity of HIV and AIDS pandemic continues to outlive many South Africans. As we went through what we thought was a maturation period of the HIV epidemic, we realise the magnitude of the task at hand as we continue the fight against the the resilience of this virus.
HIV and AIDS continues to affect all aspects of our lives beyond the dictates of medicine, as it becomes more apparent that this epidemic defines our social, psychological, economic, and spiritual existence.
We cannot be complacent in our drive to end this epidemic. We must be resolute in our fight and in all our interventions in research and policy implementation.
We are informed that the scientists, researchers, government and civil society that attended this AIDS conference, all agree that if we are to end this epidemic, something drastic needs to be done.
The theme of the conference is therefore appropriate that we must innovate and use technology at all levels to bring about sustainable change in our responses to HIV and AIDS.
Statistics which were shared by the Human Sciences Research Council as well as the University of Cape Town, show us how far we have come in our fight against this epidemic. They equally show the extent of the journey we must travel to emerge victorious.
The Thembisa modelling done by the University of Cape Town suggests that there are approximately 7.4 million South Africans who are HIV positive. We currently have 4.9 million people living with HIV that are on treatment. We need to initiate another 2 million on ARVs by December 2020.
Whereas our comprehensive HIV response is being hailed as a success, what is clear is that we are not doing well in preventing new infections of the virus.
It is estimated that there are around 250 000 new infections annually, and our target is to get below 100 000 new infections by December 2020. This gap is big and it must be closed.
As we make these strides, the contributing factor in not reaching desired targets, remains the challenge of stigma and discrimination. It is a scientific fact that HIV as well as TB, does not discriminate by age, race, gender, class and socio-economic status.
We too must not discriminate on the basis of any of these categories, instead we are called upon to value every human being and should at all material times assist those infected and affected to overcome their condition in order to reach their full potential. We must be compassionate and ensure that available services are provided with respect and dignity to all.
We thank our new Minister of Health, Dr Zweli Mkhize for launching the Human Rights Plan on Tuesday. With this Plan, it is a commitment as government that every public servant shall provide care with compassion and at the highest possible level of quality. This is not only a right thing to do, but a fundamental human right.
Ladies and Gentlemen
We are cognisant of the multiple biological and societal factors that play a role in the transmission of the virus. Our learners, especially adolescent girls and young women, will be getting focussed attention from our government.
This entails a holistic approach to sexuality, starting from age appropriate life skills education in schools, so that young people have an understanding of their own bodies. We are approaching this work with utmost care and caution, so that we do not prematurely sexualize our children.
In addition, access to dignity packs is being prioritized and recently our government has made all menstrual products VAT free.
We believe that every girl should have the power to decide their future. Our responsibility as government including parents, is to ensure that they are equipped with education in order to lead independent and productive lives. Our responsibility is ensure that they are healthy, and that they are safe from any form of abuse and gender violence. Empowerment of women is fundamental to transformation of society.
It is has been proven that there is a symbiotic relationship between the levels of societal development and empowerment of girl children, and women. It is for this reason, that we launched three years ago the “She Conquers” campaign.
Another area of concern is that the age of the first sexual debut amongst young boys is decreasing. This exposes them to HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, as well as becoming fathers without any planning! Again, we need ensure that we nurture our young men to become responsible adults.
The overwhelming support that we continue to receive from the bilateral and multilateral partners, in particular PEPFAR, Global Fund and the German Development Cooperation is highly appreciated and critical to our response to the HIV epidemic.
The reduction of deaths and new infections and the overall management of the HIV epidemic proves that as South Africa, we are a community that responds well to nurturing, and that we take our leadership in the fight against HIV very seriously.
Our government, through the South African National AIDS Council, has capable leadership that will continually drive our national response and in the process, ensure the sustainability of the flow of donor funding as well as efficient expenditure.
We acknowledge the advice from our experts such as Prof Abdool-Karim that our focus should be on delivery and implementation of programmes at the local and district levels. That is why our Provincial and District AIDS Councils must be strengthened.
All our Premiers and Mayors will be held accountable for the performance of these AIDS Councils at provinces and municipalities that they lead.
We are pleased that there are sub-districts that are showing good performance and this good performance must be translated to other areas of the response.
The survey by the Medicins San Frontiers in Eshowe in particular has shown good performance against the 90-90-90 targets. This intervention, which reached 90-94-95 against the targets, illustrates that we can reach the targets that will bring us to epidemic control.
The next step is for us to upscale the interventions that worked in Eshowe. We also call upon the SANAC Secretariat to convene a meeting of experts to see how this can be done as rapidly as possible.
We were concerned about the reported association between the contraceptive depo provera and HIV acquisition by women. The ECHO study, with strong South African researchers as principal investigators, released their results yesterday.
It is a real comfort that this well designed study found that there is no relation between being on this contraceptive and acquisition of HIV.
We have heard the complaints about drug shortages in the different facilities and the Minister of Health has prioritised this issue. This 6th Administration will not allow a situation where people’s lives are put at risk because of supply chain inefficiencies.
This conference has provided an opportunity for all voices to be heard, especially those in frontline service. However, we must not be a nation that listens through conferences. We must continuously be engaged in deliberative policy processes in order to shape and improve on our interventions as government, together with all social partners. It is in our collective interest to listen and to act accordingly.
We acknowledge the important role played by the leadership of people living with HIV in assisting government to deepen and accelerate our response to the epidemic. We are pleased that some of those who were at the forefront of the early years of the fight against the epidemic, have joined us in this conference. This demonstrates that indeed HIV should not define one’s destiny.
Mr Lucky Mazibuko, a successful businessman, has been living openly with HIV for 28 years and is running community projects to benefit his own community.
We also wish to acknowledge the work of Mandisa, who is the daughter of the late Gugu Dlamini as well as the work of the Gugu Dlamini Foundation. There are many others that are doing important work in our communities, we wish to salute them and encourage them to continue with their good work.
In conclusion, to the conference organizing committee under the leadership of Prof Phaswana-Mafuya, we thank you for putting together this very important conference and making us proud as a country.
On behalf of government and SANAC, we commit to take forward the recommendations that came from this conference so that when we meet in two years’ time, we can see a quantum leap in our country’s response to HIV and AIDS, including meeting the targets we set for December 2020!