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South African President Announces Expansion of HIV/AIDS Testing, Treatment

  • Scott Bobb

South Africa's president says his government will expand testing and treatment for the HIV/AIDS virus that afflicts an estimated 5.7 million people in his country.

South Africa's president says his government will expand testing and treatment for the HIV/AIDS virus that afflicts an estimated 5.7 million people in his country. The announcement was made at a ceremony marking World AIDS Day.

South African President Jacob Zuma announced what he called a new era in the fight against HIV/AIDS in his country, which is seen by many as the epicenter of the epidemic.

"Let there be no more shame, no more blame, no more discrimination and no more stigma. Let the politicization and endless debates about HIV and AIDS stop," Mr. Zuma said.

Speaking at ceremonies in Pretoria marking World AIDS Day, Mr. Zuma announced a major expansion of testing and treatment for HIV/AIDS victims.

An estimated 1,000 people die in South Africa each day from the virus and another 1,000 new victims are infected. An estimated 10 percent of the total population is infected. Infection rates for young women and pregnant mothers reach as high as 32 percent.

Mr. Zuma said that by next April all children under one year of age who tested positive for HIV would receive treatment.

Pregnant women and people with both HIV and Tuberculosis will receive treatment much earlier than before. International health groups say earlier treatment can lengthen the lives of HIV sufferers.

About 800,000 South Africans receive treatments of anti-retroviral drugs and an estimated one million more need treatment. The president's initiative will add further pressure to the already over-extended HIV treatment program.

South African health officials recently announced they would be unable to meet the goal of delivering treatment to 80 percent of those needing it because they had run out of funds.

The U.S. Embassy announced at the ceremony that it would donate $120 million during the next two years to help meet this need. A statement said this was in addition to the $575 million already budgeted next year for the fight against HIV/AIDS in South Africa.

Mr. Zuma also announced a new campaign to prevent the spread of HIV.

"We must intensify our prevention efforts if we are to turn off the tap of new HIV and TB infections. Prevention is our most powerful and effective weapon," Mr. Zuma said.

He urged people to take responsibility for their health and that of their loved ones, to practice safe sex and to get tested.

Mr. Zuma said he had made plans to be tested for HIV. Many senior officials and media celebrities are doing the same.

The new initiative was praised by HIV/AIDS activists in South Africa as well as by the head of the United Nations AIDS agency who attended the ceremony.

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