World AIDS Day is once again upon us, with everyone wearing red ribbons and all kinds of AIDS awareness and campaigns will be taking place – showing what people and organisations are doing in the fight against HIV.
The theme for international World AIDS Day 2009 is 'Human Rights and Access to Treatment'. Global leaders have pledged to work towards universal access to HIV and AIDS prevention, treatment and care; recognising these as fundamental human rights. This theme has been chosen to address the critical need to protect human rights and make HIV prevention, treatment, care and support accessible to all. The theme also calls on countries to remove laws that discriminate against people living with HIV and AIDS.
I recently attended the first ‘Positive Convention’, where many well-known AIDS activists were present. Also attending was Judge Edwin Cameroon, deputy chairperson of the South African National AIDS Council, executive director of the AIDS Law Project, Mark Heywood and AIDS activist, Mercy Makhalemele. Speakers included Health Minister, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi.
When the minister took to the stage, the house broke out in song, ’Thina senze nje umasibona inkokheli’ (This is what we do when we see a leader) – signaling their approval of Motsoaledi’s willingness to intensify the fight against HIV and AIDS. Motsoaledi announced South Africa’s theme for the 2009 World AIDS Day: “I am responsible, we are responsible, and South Africa is taking responsibility.”
For me this is not just an ordinary theme but more of a personal challenge. Taking the international theme about access to human rights, South Africa is saying ‘yes we need to do all we can to deal with issues concerning human rights, but we must start by taking responsibility.’ This theme challenges every person living in South Africa to take up the fight against HIV and AIDS as their own.
Many questions came to mind while at the Positive Convention: Am I responsible for my actions? Am I responsible enough to stop the spread of HIV? What am I doing to fight the stigma and discrimination associated with HIV and AIDS? What am I doing to help AIDS orphans? Am I responsible enough to educate those around me about HIV and AIDS?
Upon further introspection, I remembered when the whole nation blamed former President Thabo Mbeki, and former Health Minister, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, for denying facts about HIV, misleading the nation and not doing much to provide anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs) to people living with AIDS.
South Africa has a President and a health minister who are hands-on. They are taking responsibility and acknowledging that the government has made mistakes before. Recently, President Jacob Zuma said: “Let me emphasise that although we have a comprehensive strategy to tackle HIV/AIDS that has been acknowledged internationally, and though we have the largest anti-retroviral programme in the world, we are not yet winning this battle. We must come to terms with this reality as South Africans.” (Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, President heralds new era in South Africa’s AIDS response). Zuma urged South Africans to work harder with renewed focus to implement the National Strategic Plan on HIV, AIDS and STI, 2007-2011. It is encouraging that the Zuma administration recognises the need to move with urgency and purpose when fighting HIV and AIDS.
If we are to stop the progress of this disease through our society, we will need to pursue extraordinary measures. We will need to mobilise all South Africans to take responsibility for their health and well-being and that of their partners, their families and their communities.”
Yes, much finger pointing has been done, but not once have we stopped to point the finger at ourselves. Who are we going to blame now for the spread of HIV? Who are we going to blame for people who are not taking their ARVs when they are accessible? Who will take the blame for not preventing the spread of HIV?
One thing many South Africans know more than anything is their rights. Basic human rights such as health care, right to privacy, right to social grants and so on. Not once have we thought that rights come with responsibilities. We all need to take responsibility for our actions, health, community and the well-being of everyone around us.
As delegates at the ‘Positive Convention’ said “Thina senze nje umasibona inkokheli” we need to make a personal commitment to fight HIV/AIDS. If each individual takes responsibility in the fight against HIV/AIDS, we can say as a nation, we are going to win this war.
Only then we can proudly say South Africa is taking responsibility.
- Nomsa Mabaso, Prevention coordinator at the Tshepang Trust