NORTHERN CAPE PROVINCIAL LEGISLATURE
I stand before you today and proudly declare that I am positive! Speaker I am positive that we as a country have come a long way in the fight against the HIV/AIDS pandemic. I am positive Honourable Members that the dark days of AIDS denialism are finally behind us. I am positive that we finally have a National Health Minister who accepts the responsibility on his shoulders, and believes that through a systematic, and scientific approach, we as a country can halt the spread of HIV/AIDS.
Speaker I am positive, and so should you be.
The 1st of December, or World AIDS day, has come to be a day which brings billions of people from all of over the world together. From the countries with the lowest HIV/AIDS prevalence, like Afghanistan and the Cape Verde, to countries with the highest prevalence like South Africa and Nigeria, ALL nations recognize the common threat that is HIV/AIDS and hold hands in solidarity and action to fight this disease.
HIV/AIDS has become one of the 21st Century’s greatest example of how globalised the world is, as this disease truly is a worldwide challenge. Indeed as of 2009, research estimates that as many as 33.3 million people are infected with HIV/AIDS worldwide.
Yes Speaker, as many as 33.3 million people. Let me put that into perspective. 33 million people are roughly the same population as the whole of Iraq. 33 million people is more people than the individual populations of Uganda, Peru, Malaysia, Australia, or even the Netherlands. 33.3 million people, if one is to go by recent Census statistics, would roughly be the combined population of Limpopo, Mpumalanga, Gauteng, the North-West, and KwaZulu-Natal.
This is a large number of people, and in truth, is a number which is just way too high. However it is not all doom and gloom, it must be said that globally, serious inroads are being made every day in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
In South Africa we have the highest prevalence of HIV/AIDS, and an estimated 5.7 million people are infected. That is just over 10% of our population living with this virus. Surely this remains an unacceptable situation, and indeed is a crisis. This is a crises which we must remind ourselves was exacerbated by the denialism of the ANC government during the dark days of the Mbeki-era. This period saw millions of desperate South Africans struggle to access their basic human right to health-care, and saw hundreds of thousands of people needlessly die. It is important that as we commemorate this day, we never lose sight of the history we come from, as it is the BEST reminder for us of what not to do, and allow us to say never again!
However Speaker, we must gladly note that South Africa is making progress in its effort to tackle the country’s HIV/AIDS epidemic. In fact, mother-to-child HIV transmission rates are sharply down. Government policy has changed to make a huge increase in the provision in antiretroviral treatment. In fact it has made South Africa the largest consumer of this type of medication in the world. Lastly and more importantly, more than 12 million people have voluntarily tested for HIV. This is encouraging, and points to a population ever increasingly aware of the virus, and more importantly, their status.
Looked at in more detail, and according to studies conducted by the Medical Research Council, have shown that mother-to-child transmission of HIV has shown a reduction from 10% to 3.5% nationally. The decreasing number of people dying from AIDS-related deaths is also extremely encouraging, and reflects the expansion of the treatment programme.
In fact Speaker, the number of facilities providing testing and treatment has risen from 490 to 2001, expanding access. In recognition of the shortage of Doctors in South Africa, and to devolve access to more people, more than 1750 nurses were trained on nurse initiated and managed ART. The amendment of the CD4 threshold for initiation of ART treatment is now for patients with a CD4 count of 350, as opposed to a CD4 count of 200.
These initiatives are the fruits of years of pressure on the Government exerted by Opposition parties and vocal Civil Society organizations.
One of the greatest initiatives has been the national HCT testing and awareness drive, which over 15 months of the campaign saw 14 million people counselled, and 12 million tested in the public sector. Ofcourse the private sector also played its part and tested 1.5 million. This must all be applauded, and much more must be done to roll back the pandemic.
Therefore Speaker, I want to take this opportunity to join the chorus of voices appealing to all South Africans, and residents of the Northern Cape, to raise their awareness, know their status, and practice safe sex by always using a condom and keeping faithful to one partner.