By Musa Mhlongo
Pretoria, 09 June 2020: The South African National AIDS Council (SANAC) hosted a virtual meeting with the Dr. Dhlomo in his capacity as Chairperson of the SA TB Caucus and the Health Portfolio Committee in the Parliament of the Republic of South Africa. The aim of the meeting was to discuss ways of sustaining HIV and TB response during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Before the COVID-19 outbreak, South Africa was struggling to deliver on global HIV & TB targets, and HIV prevention continued to be in crisis. Now under lockdown, we have seen HIV & TB prevention services compromised, with women and girls facing higher risks of HIV infection under lockdown, due to increased levels of violence, and many having no access to essential HIV or SRHR services. A sudden closure of harm reduction services is depriving people who use drugs of access to opioid substitution therapy and other life-saving interventions, putting them at higher risk of HIV, TB and viral Hepatitis.
Following the welcoming of Ms. Coceka Nogoduka as the Acting CEO of SANAC, the SA TB Caucus and SANAC had a fruitful exchange on the need to sustain progress on HIV and TB during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as to adapt HIV and TB programmes to also address COVID-19 and protect human rights.
According to Dr. Dhlomo, it is important that the parliamentarians become champions in addressing the three epidemics that are colliding in South Africa. He cited the importance of learning from COVID-19 to fight TB more aggressively. Dr. Dhlomo also applauded the SANAC led digital campaign #Covered24/7 for making use of community radio stations. The campaign is aimed at promoting sustained HIV & TB testing, prevention and treatment during COVID-19.
SANAC Co-Chair, Ms. Steve Letsike echoed Dr. Dhlomo’s sentiments and added that, “for us to meet our global HIV & TB targets during these trying times, it is critical that SANAC, SA TB Caucus and Portfolio Committee on Health strengthens the working relations and accountability for the NSP implementation.”
Supported by the renewed partnership, sustaining the HIV & TB response during the Covid-19 pandemic advocacy agenda includes;
• Ensuring continuity of TB & HIV services during the COVID-19 pandemic
• Lead the advocacy for price reduction of COVID-19 cartridges on Gene-X-pert from $20 to $5
• Ensuring sustained supplies of HIV/TB commodities, as well as adjusted approaches for prevention commodities promotion
• Intensified prevention messages country wide for COVID-19, HIV & TB
• Advocate for 3HP uptake in the pilot districts
“It is important that as the country, we ensure integrated screening, diagnosis and contact tracing for HIV, TB & COVID-19, and this is emphasised through the SANAC #Covered24/7 digital campaign,” said the SANAC Acting CEO, Ms. Coceka Nogoduka.