Deputy President David Mabuza says while significant progress has been made in containing the spread of COVID-19 infections – the country should not take its foot off the pedal.

“The battle is not over. We are not out of the woods yet. We dare not let our guard down as the fourth wave of the pandemic potentially looms large on the horizon,” Mabuza said.

Addressing the virtual meeting of the Inter-Ministerial Committee of the South African National Aids Council (SANAC) earlier today, Mabuza said there is a need to ensure that systems and health infrastructure are ready for the resurgence of infections that may reverse the gains achieved.

“Our vaccination programme continues to offer hope that with more people vaccinated, we will save more lives and get the economy back on track,” Mabuza said on Tuesday.

He stressed that the country should not lose momentum in the fight against HIV and AIDS and must ensure that all HIV and AIDS programmes are embedded in an overall response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“COVID-19 will remain with us for the foreseeable future, and therefore it’s critical to integrate our delivery systems and platforms in such a way that the fight against HIV and AIDS continues to receive our attention within the broader context of our COVID-19 response.

“We need to continue directing our resources to the fight against HIV and AIDS,” Mabuza said.

Touching on the National Strategic Plan, Mabuza said it has been extended to the end of March 2023 to allow for the acceleration of programme implementation towards the achievement of set targets.

“We have agreed that we should ensure that the disruption of routine service delivery at all levels is avoided. Where challenges have been identified, catch-up plans must be developed and implemented to ensure that we do not derail from the focus of the National Strategic Plan targets,” Mabuza said.

Mabuza said an integrated response to HIV and AIDS, TB and COVID-19 should be designed and targeted at vulnerable communities and populations that are exposed to the devastating social and economic impacts of these pandemics.

“As government, we treat TB as a priority and we are putting efforts to finding missing TB patients, to ensure diagnosis and treatment, including finding and re-initiating treatment for those that are lost to follow-up so that we strengthen adherence to TB treatment and improve our TB cure rates.

“More importantly, we need to ensure that we address socio-economic conditions and inequalities that breed negative impacts on vulnerable populations who continue to be disproportionately affected by HIV and AIDS, especially adolescent girls and young women between the ages of 15 and 24,” Deputy President Mabuza said.

Raising awareness around teenage pregnancies

Last week, Statistics South Africa released a report that shows that more than 34 000 teenage girls gave birth in 2020 and 688 of them were younger than 10 years of age.

Mabuza said SANAC and all its sectors should be at the forefront of raising awareness of this scourge and pronounce itself strongly in ensuring that those committing these sexual crimes face the law.

“Our programmes must focus on raising awareness and forging collaborative efforts across society to ensure that we address poverty, gender-based violence, patriarchy and all other behavioural and social determinants of HIV and AIDS.

“We must ensure that our programmes are further extended to girls younger than 15 years of age. The long-term economic, social, psychological and legal effects of these statistics are disturbing. We must act now.

“We must focus on empowerment programmes for women and girls to equalise access to opportunities for self-development and economic participation.”

Mabuza said government should ensure that young girls have access to sexual and reproductive health services as well as comprehensive sexuality education and services free of stigma and discrimination from a very young age.

“The private sector has a crucial role to play in the fight against HIV and AIDS as well as COVID-19, especially in sectors like mining. We need to ensure that we harness private sector skills and resources to scale up our capabilities to respond effectively to HIV and AIDS and TB,” he said.

World AIDS Day

With regard to the World AIDS Day Commemoration, Mabuza said as a country, there is need to continue to work together in solidarity, and act as a collective, including government, civil society, private sector and development partners, in order to ensure that no one in the communities is left behind especially the marginalised groups.

“For us, the commemoration of AIDS with the world is not only an event, but a critical platform to solidify joined-up action for effective implementation of key programmes in the fight against HIV and AIDS, TB and COVID-19,” he said.

Source: South African Government News Agency