The 7th SA AIDS Conference was officially launched at the ICC Durban. Conference chair, Dr Nono Simelela welcomed the speakers and delegates, and set the tone for the Conference with a powerful speech. She said that the conference is a meeting for people to reflect on the progress that South Africa has made in reducing the impact and spreading of AIDS.
The conference is gathering of a community that is committed to meeting the needs of South Africans living with AIDS and ensuring that South Africa eradicates HIV related infections. She also acknowledged the challenges that our society is facing in achieving Zero New Infections and triumph against AIDS.
Ambassador Patrick H. Gaspard represented PEPFAR and its commitment to South Africa in the fight against HIV. He shared the victories that the PEPFAR programme has helped South Africa to achieve and the incredible work done through the South African National Health Department. The Ambassador recognised that although PEPFER and South Africa has made significant progress, there is a lot of work to be done to get control of the epidemic by 2020 and ending the epidemic by 2030.
Nkhensani Mavasa from TAC had a different view about South African’s progress in attending to the needs of people living with HIV. Although she agreed that there is significant progress, she also argued that the healthcare system is dysfunctional at ground level. Local communities have understaffed clinics, stock-outs of medicines and burdened with long queues. She added that South Africa has the biggest Antiretroviral programme in the world but people are still dying of curable diseases such as TB. She acknowledged that South Africa has good policies and programmes to deal with AIDS but they are not being implemented correctly in local communities. Nkhensani called for the government to take charge in ensuring that the needs of local people are met.
Siphokazi Mthathi was the voice of the voiceless. She emphasised the fact that HIV epidemic is getting worse and the efforts to reducing it are being undermined because there is still criminalisation of young people, and chances of people getting treatment are still determined by their age and where they live. She concluded that the government and the healthcare providers must own up and lead by example.
Acknowledging the issues raised by Mavasa and Mthathi, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa said, “we must renew our commitment and determination on the social compact which has been forged over many years of shared struggle and refocus our commitment of to the achieving an HIV free generation by 2030.” He also said that; “we will not overcome this epidemic if we do not work side by side and accept that we have a responsibility as government, employees, society, scientific forums, youth groups and researchers. We have a responsibility as parents, spouses, partners, mentors and role models to ourselves and to others.”