Break the yoke of Aids

2009-10-31 13:40

ON World Aids Day on December 1 I would like to see the start of a ­massive mobilisation campaign to help us beat off our biggest challenge since apartheid.

HIV and Aids have the potential to undermine our efforts to achieve a better life for our people. If we do not respond with urgency and resolve we may well find our vision of a thriving nation slipping from our grasp.

Recent statistics paint a disturbing picture of the health of our nation. They show, for example, that nearly six out of 10 deaths in our country in 2006 were of people younger than 50 years. What is even more disturbing is the number of young women who are dying in the prime of their life, in their child-bearing years.

In Algeria and Senegal people live, on average, until they are 70 years and 60 years old respectively. We die young. Life expectancy among South African men in 2006 was estimated to be 51 years.

HIV and Aids have had a chilling impact on our young nation and it’s being aggravated by the high prevalence of tuberculosis. To see the full human toll go into the hospitals, clinics and hospices of our country and see the effects of HIV and Aids on those who should be in the prime of their lives. It is necessary to go into people’s homes to see how families struggle with the triple burden of poverty, disease and stigma.

Though we have a comprehensive strategy to tackle HIV and Aids that has been acknowledged internationally, and though we have the largest antiretroviral programme in the world, we are not yet winning. We need to do more and we need to do better.

All South Africans must know that they are at risk and must take informed decisions to reduce their vulnerability to infection, or, if infected, to slow the advance of the disease. Most importantly, all South Africans need to know their HIV status and be informed of the treatment options available to them.

Let World Aids Day mark the beginning of a massive mobilisation campaign that reaches all South Africans and spurs them into action to safeguard their health.

Knowledge will help us to confront denialism and the stigma attached to the epidemic. We expect that the South African National Aids Council, under the leadership of Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, will develop measures that strengthen the programmes already in place.

As we prepare for World Aids Day and as we undertake the programmes that must necessarily follow let us draw on our experience of mass mobilisation and social engagement.

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