by Hon. Boitumelo Babuseng – DA Provincial Spokesperson of Finance and Economic Development
Date: 28 November 2017
Note to Editors: The speech below was delivered today by the DA Provincial Spokesperson of Finance and Economic Development, Hon. Boitumelo Babuseng, during the debate on World AIDS Day & Disability Month.
Guests in the gallery
Members of the media
As we observe World Aids Day, we need to take our blinkers off and see HIV & AIDS for what it has become.
HIV has grown to become the biggest epidemic in modern history. Southern Africa is at the epicenter of this global epidemic with South Africa having the biggest HIV epidemic in the world, with an estimated 7.1 million people said to be living with HIV in 2016.
Hon. Speaker, the reality is that HIV & AIDS has made disease and death the focus of daily life.
On its deadly rampage, AIDS has filled the classified sections of local newspapers with countless names of its victims. It has filled Saturdays with endless funerals. And it has filled many, many hearts with untold sorrow.
AIDS is a sad song – it remains a death march of which we urgently need to silence those beating drums.
Hon. Speaker, I say this against the backdrop that in South Africa there continues to be over 500 new HIV infections every day. AIDS also kills more than 100 young South Africans every day. The casualties of this disease are worse than had our children been at war.
If we are ever going to win this battle, then we need to fight fire with fire.
HIV & AIDS have no mercy. So too, must our fight against this disease be uncompromising.
The problem in South Africa, however, Hon. Speaker, is that while we have enough ammunition lined up to start a war on this disease, we don’t have the firearms to launch an attack.
Allow me to explain:
South Africa has the largest antiretroviral treatment (ART) programme globally. Yet, our people are still being wiped out by this disease.
Hon. Speaker, Universal Testing and Treatment (UTT) was launched in September 2016 by the Health Minister but the Northern Cape has not been able to mobilize communities and enrol an adequate number of HIV-infected people on Anti Retroviral Treatment.
According to the Provincial Health Department, this has been largely due to a lack of marketing activities to mobilize HIV-infected people, who were previously excluded from 2014 National ART Treatment Guidelines.
Data challenges experienced at health facilities have also prevented the Northern Cape Health Department from achieving its target for starting HIV positive clients on ART.
In fact, the Northern Cape is experiencing declining numbers of patients remaining on ART due to poor implementation of retention and adherence strategies, which is also compounded by poor data management.
This, in effect, has led to high defaulter rates and an upsurge in teenage pregnancies amongst youth infected with HIV.
Hon. Speaker, HIV need no longer be a death sentence but being unable to access anti-retrovirals is.
Being born with HIV also need no longer be the fate of our children, but failing to present Youth Friendly Services to young people living with HIV, and in turn failing to implement Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission, is.
It is tragic indeed that whilst South Africa has great intentions and lengthy plans to tackle HIV & AIDS, they are not properly implemented due to poor leadership, poor management and poor administration.
Hon. Speaker, HIV & AIDS is a disease that puts health care systems the world over to the test. Worryingly, the Northern Cape Health Department is flunking out in this regard.
Hon. Speaker, it is little wonder that HIV is high and remains on the increase when we look at how the provincial health department responds to sexuality.
Not only has this department failed to secure safe and adequate storage of condoms throughout the districts, in turn compromising the quality of condoms, but it also fails to provide dedicated transport to deliver condoms from storage sites to facilities for distribution.
For the Health Department to turn a blind eye to something as critical and simple as condom distribution, is a massive service delivery failure. It alone defeats the progress made in the fight against this disease.
Hon. Speaker, we cannot be comfortable with such a situation. We cannot tolerate such a situation. This day should therefore not serve to celebrate the gains made in the fight against HIV & AIDS, for they are not enough, instead it must be used as a call to action.
On this note, in light of December also being Disability Month, I wish to flag the relationship between HIV & AIDS and disability.
People with disabilities have been largely overlooked with regards to HIV & AIDS in South Africa. This is despite it being common knowledge that HIV & AIDS affects vulnerable population groups, and that people with disabilities are one of the world’s most vulnerable population groups.
In fact, women and girls with disability are particularly vulnerable to sexual assault or abuse. This is also a matter for the 16 Days of Activism Campaign and could be debated on its own, but let me remain on theme and revert back to the matter of disability.
Hon. Speaker, the United Nations indicates that persons with disabilities are often at higher risk of exposure to HIV for several reasons, including:
• poor access to information and services related to sexual and reproductive health and HIV & AIDs;
• poor access to health care;
• poverty and marginalization; and
• high rates of sexual abuse and exploitation.
While the Social Development Department is to some extent addressing disability mainstreaming, by increasing access to social services and creating greater awareness of available services, and while they offer psycho social support services to people living with HIV & AIDS, much more still needs to be done.
In rural areas of the province, such as Wrenchville in the John Taole Gaetsewe district, residents have struggled to access medical care since the closure of the Wrenchville clinic some time ago. They now have to make their way across the N14, to seek medical assistance at the Kuruman Hospital.
Hon. Speaker, how much more challenging then is it for Wrenchville residents with disabilities to gain access to health services?
Hon. Speaker, the relationship between disability and HIV & AIDS extends further than just this.
Persons living with HIV & AIDS are also at risk of becoming disabled on a permanent or episodic basis as a result of their condition. This could be a debilitating form of mental disability or it could present in a physical disability that requires the use of assistive devices.
In this regard, however, the Northern Cape has not been able to completely eradicate waiting lists for assistive devices such as wheelchairs, for which approximately 80 new applications are received every month.
Hon. Speaker, It is clear that despite the growing relationship between HIV & AIDS and disability, persons with disabilities have not received sufficient attention within national responses to HIV & AIDs.
I want to use this platform to appeal to politicians, officials and ordinary citizens to do more to address HIV & AIDS in all its complexity.
The Health Department has already linked indicators and targets of the HIV & AIDS sub-programme with the TB sub-programme due to the distinct relationship between these two diseases. Its time this department did the same for disability.
Hon. Speaker, HIV & AIDS is a disease that tests the level of our compassion and rationality.
We need to care more deeply for those afflicted with this disease and for those who are vulnerable to exposure to this disease. They are not statistics – they are our neighbours, they are our friends and they are our children.
To the provincial government, I ask that you take out your rifles and put HIV & AIDS in the firing line.
In closing, Hon. Speaker, I also pay tribute to the millions of people who have died of AIDS.
I want to inspire those searching for a cure, to search faster.
And I want to encourage the millions who are living with HIV & AIDS to not give up.
Maybe someday, you might be able to say: “I used to have HIV”.
Hon. Boitumelo Babuseng
DA Provincial Spokesperson of Finance and Economic Development
079 874 6179
Shelley De Witt
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