South Africa’s health minister says his country is united in the fight against HIV/AIDS. But he told the 18TH International AIDS Conference in Vienna that South Africa faces serious challenges in its efforts to achieve universal access to treatment, care and prevention.
Dr. Aaron Motsoaledi took over the health minster’s job in May of last year. He replaced the late Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, who advocated beet juice, among other things, to treat HIV/AIDS. Dr. Motsoaledi indicated those days of controversy are over.
“In the past, South Africa has been the subject of much criticism at these conferences for being a highly divided country on its approach to the HIV and AIDS pandemic. However, I can stand before you here today to state categorically that in 2010 all of South Africa is united behind our one goal on HIV prevention and treatment,” he says.
Things are different now
He says South Africa is guided by “science, best practices and the recognition of its constitutional responsibility” to provide universal access to health care services.
He adds, “And to do our best to try and get control over the HIV/AIDS pandemic.”
Dr. Motsoaledi says the recent World Cup taught his national about the importance of mobilization of resources, good planning and ambition. However, he says his country could have done better in recent years in dealing with the pandemic.
“It is clear, that we have been falling short of this commitment. And that in order for South Africa to meet the Millennium Development Goals and our commitment to improved the quality of life for all citizens and free the potential of each person, we need to take rapid and drastic action,” he says.
South Africa has high maternal and child mortality rates for maternal health and for children under age five. Much of that is blamed on tuberculosis. TB is the leading cause of death for people living with HIV/AIDS in South Africa.
“There is a 73 percent co-infection rate. Between 1997 and 2005, the number of people dying of TB each year rose by 338 percent. Of the estimated 5.5 million people in South Africa infected with HIV, one-third will develop TB during their lifetime,” he says.
Plan of action
The health minister says solving his country’s HIV/AIDS problem is like climbing Mt. Everest. He says there is no choice but to make the climb.
“The South African National AIDS Council has got a plan called the national strategy plan or NSP. It has two main objectives, which are to be achieved by 2011. Objective number one is to reduce the number of HIV infected people by half. And objective number two – to provide comprehensive treatment, care and support to 80 percent of those who need it,” he says.
South African plans to test and treat millions of people for HIV and TB. But Motsoaledi admits it will be a strain on the budget. It’s hoped that in the long run, the cost may be kept in line as a result of fewer opportunistic infections.
However, even with greater efficiency in health programs, it’s still expected to cost hundreds of millions of dollars.