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Being positive about one's HIV status can be an inspiration to others.
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Dear Mr President
On Saturday, South Africa and the world will observe World Aids Day. The day is an opportunity for all of us to rededicate ourselves to the fight against HIV and Aids. This year, we are called upon to get tested and to know our status.
Mr President, knowing one's status is a powerful weapon in our battle against HIV and Aids. Our call to every South African to know their status is premised on our understanding that knowing your HIV status helps you to make informed decisions on preventative measures, treatment, care and support.
Word Aids Day is a platform to mobilise society to appreciate the impact of this scourge and to raise public awareness about the virus, how it is spread, its symptoms and treatments. Collectively, we must redouble our efforts in our quest to achieve zero new infections in the country.
There is no doubt, Mr President, that the ANC government has made significant progress in its efforts to respond to the Aids pandemic. UNAIDS has commended South Africa for having the largest ARV programme in the world with close to 4.2 million people on treatment. The treatment has led to an increase in life expectancy and low levels of mother-to-child HIV transmission rates.
All HIV positive South Africans now have access to anti-retroviral drugs irrespective of their CD4 count. This intervention has led to a decline in HIV/Aids related deaths and increase in life expectancy as well as low levels of mother-to-child HIV transmission rates. We attend funerals week in and week out of family members and friends who may have succumbed to the scourge. Therefore, the noticeable relief brought by the decisive action of your government are making a quantifiable difference, giving our families, friends and comrades a second chance.
Mr President, the number of Aids-related deaths have been declining consistently since 2007 from 276 921 to 115 167 in 2018. More noteworthy is that HIV prevalence among the youth aged between 15 and 24 has declined from 6,7% in 2002 to 5,5% in 2018. The infant mortality rate has gone down from 53,2 infant deaths per 1 000 live births in 2002 to 36,4 infant deaths per 1 000 live births in 2018. The ANC government, under whose stewardship we are witnessing progress on many health indicators, especially those that relate to women and children must be commended. I am confident, Mr President, that a programme that takes the fight against HIV and Aids to the schoolyards, factory floor, churches, boardrooms, political parties and football fields amongst others will continue to shift the balance of power in our favour as we strive to defeat this scourge.
Unless we continue along the same progressive trajectory, HIV and Aids will have a devastating impact on all aspects of our lives. Aids-related illnesses add to the burden on health resources due to an increased number of hospitalisation and the provision of treatment. During this World Aids Day, our fellow countrymen are called to show compassion to those who are affected and infected with the pandemic. The story of HIV and Aids now offers each one of us an opportunity to showcase love and solidarity to our fellow South Africans who are infected against the sorry past of rejection, despair and death.
Mr President, we must continue to boldly assert: My comrade with HIV is still my comrade! My brother with HIV is still my brother! My sister with HIV is still my sister! All of us are either infected or affected by HIV!
We call upon all sectors of society to do whatever it takes to help minimise the impact of the scourge. Mr President, to deliver the goal of a better life for all the fight against HIV and Aids must be intensified throughout all sectors of society. The impact of HIV and Aids can undermine the development and growth of the economy. Practically, this means that if we are unable to stop the spread of HIV and minimise its impact, our collective objective of meeting the job creation targets as envisioned in the National Development Plan will not have been advanced.
The private sector must be urged to come on board. HIV affects the most economically active sections of the population who are critical to sustaining a healthy economy. Research shows that if companies invest in prevention and treatment programmes, the savings will outweigh the costs in the long-term. Providing care and treatment for HIV-positive employees can reduce the financial burden of HIV/Aids by as much as 40%. Mr President, we must continue to fight the stigma of HIV and Aids by suppressing inhumane attitudes that it only happens to a certain breed of people. Coming from the dusty streets of this beautiful country, I can attest to this reality that even people of faith do succumb to the pandemic. Defeating the scourge, Mr President requires all of us to stand together as it knows no morality. It can happen to anyone of us. We must all embrace the fight against HIV and Aids with an equal measure of commitment.
Mr President, in our battle against HIV and Aids, we must never repeat the mistakes of those who are merely focusing on the virus, blaming the infected and affected and promising ourselves that victory will be attained with a return to morality, the discovery of a vaccine or some magic injection or tablet. For us to emerge triumphant we must abstain, be faithful to our partners and condomise. Victory is certain!
- Mabe is ANC national spokesperson. Follow him on Twitter: @pulemabe
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