The return of the International AIDS Conference to Durban is an opportunity to take stock of the progress South Africa is making in the fight against HIV and AIDS, says KwaZulu-Natal Health MEC, Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo.
He said this on Monday during a media workshop for the International AIDS Conference, which will take place in Durban from 18 – 22 July. MEC Dhlomo said the progress made so far includes improving access to prevention, treatment and eliminating stigma associated with HIV and AIDS.
“Our country, with its current political leadership, has made great strides in the fight against AIDS. South Africans are no longer dying and are living longer.
“We are thus excited to host again, as we will utilise the opportunity to communicate milestones that have been achieved since the 13th International AIDS conference that was held here in Durban (in 2000),” said the MEC.
South Africa is home to the largest concentration of people living with HIV in the whole world, with almost 20% of all HIV-positive persons globally live within its borders, according to Statistics South Africa. This represents a total of 6.19 million people recorded in 2015.
KwaZulu-Natal province carries the largest burden in the country, with a prevalence rate of 17% in the general population and 37.4% in pregnant women.
“Having this conference on our shores again is a blessing in disguise, as it allows us to reflect on the conference that was held in the year 2000, which was a watershed moment for our national response to and global action on the AIDS epidemic,” said MEC Dhlomo .
In 2009, President Jacob Zuma declared World AIDS Day as “the day on which we start to turn the tide in the battle against AIDS”.
KwaZulu-Natal has recorded some success in fighting HIV. This includes the Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT), which has been reduced to 1.2% in KZN, and to 1.5% in South Africa.
More than 750 000 men and boys have been circumcised without a single loss of life since 2010.
“Millions of citizens are coming forward for voluntary counselling and testing. To date, more than 1.3 million persons have been initiated on lifelong antiretroviral therapy in this province alone, while the national tally is 3.4 million on treatment.
“This on its own means that our people are now healthier and living longer. We have also rolled out GeneXpert technology, which consist of 38 GeneXpert machines that are able to provide a faster diagnosis of TB and most importantly, the drug resistant TB. Our life expectancy has increased from 49 years to 60 years.
“We made these strides because as government, we constantly review our programmes,” said MEC Dhlomo.
Nurses have also been trained to administer ARVs under the Nurse Initiated and Managed Anti- Retroviral Programme.
“With these nurses deployed even at Primary Health Care Clinics, we successfully initiated more than 1.2 million people on ARVs, just in this province alone. Our successes are also borne out of the initiative to partner with taxi associations, which led to a programme of taking health services to taxi ranks.
“We are also where we are because of Operation Sukuma Sakhe, which is responsible for the creation of war rooms in all wards that assist in ensuring early attendance of antenatal care services by pregnant mothers. It also monitors the adherence to medication to those on treatment.
“We have also launched dual protection campaigns targeting all institutions of higher learning, including TVET colleges in the province to promote safe sexual and reproductive behaviour and also curb unwanted and unplanned pregnancies,” he said.
South Africa is adopting a “test and treat”, which means that as soon as a person tests positive, they should start treatment.
According to the World Health Organisation, research has shown that people who start ARV treatment earlier get less sick, are likely to live longer and are not infectious to other people.
“We acknowledge that while a diagnosis of HIV used to be understood by many as a death sentence, today it is increasingly seen and accepted as a treatable and manageable condition.
“That is the progress we have made and we are determined to continue on this trajectory going forward. An AIDS free generation is indeed possible,” MEC Dhlomo said.