South Africa’s deputy president, David Mabuza, said on Friday that more work was needed to end new HIV infections in the country.
Mabuza was speaking at the closing ceremony of the 9th South African Aids Conference, which had run since Tuesday at Durban’s Inkosi Albert Luthuli International Convention Centre in Durban.
“Whereas our comprehensive HIV response is being hailed as a success, what is clear is that we are not doing well in preventing new infections of the virus,” said Mabuza.
“It is estimated that there are around 250 000 new infections annually, and our target is to get below 100 000 new infections by December 2020. This gap is big and it must be closed.”
Mabuza chairs the South African National Aids Council (SANAC), a position held by all of the country’s deputy presidents.
His address followed the closing plenary where the eThekwini Declaration was announced. Mabuza was handed a framed copy of the declaration by professor Refilwe Phaswana-Mafuya, who chaired the conference.
Echoing a constant theme heard throughout the four days, Mabuza said that stigma and discrimination were contributing to keeping the country from reaching its targets.
“It is a scientific fact that HIV and TB do not discriminate by age, race, gender, class or socio-economic status. We too must not discriminate on any of these,” said Mabuza.
Instead, it was important to value human beings and ensure that those affected and infected with HIV/Aids were assisted to “reach their full potential”.
The epidemic was affecting the lives of South Africans beyond the dictates of medicine, he said, as it had defined “our social, psychological, economic and spiritual existence”.
“We cannot be complacent in our drive to end this epidemic. We must be resolute in our fight and in all our interventions in research and policy implementation."
Mabuza said government would be giving “focused attention” to adolescent girls and young women, who were particularly hard hit by the virus.
The conference heard on Wednesday that about 1 200 young girls were infected every week with the virus. Just three years ago, the number stood at about 2 000 a week.
Government’s “focused approach” would be a holistic one, said Mabuza and would start with age-appropriate life skills in school.
“We will approach this with utmost care and caution so that we do not prematurely sexualize our children,” he said.
Mabuza also said that the country’s provincial and district Aids councils needed to be strengthened, and that premiers and mayors would be held accountable for the councils in the provinces and municipalities that they led.
“The survey by Medicins San Frontiers in Eshowe has shown good performance against the 90-90-90 targets. This intervention, which reached 90-94-95 against the targets, illustrates that we can reach the targets that will bring us to epidemic control,” he said.
The 90-90-90 targets call for 90% of people living with HIV to know their status, 90% of those diagnosed to be on treatment, and 90% of those receiving treatment to have viral suppression. The target date is 2020.
“The next step is for us to upscale the interventions that worked in Eshowe. We also call upon the SANAC secretariat to convene a meeting of experts to see how this can be done as rapidly as possible,” said Mabuza.
He said government had heard the calls about drug shortages in facilities throughout the country, and that the health minister had prioritised the issue. “This sixth administration will not allow a situation where people’s lives are put at risk because of supply chain inefficiencies.”