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South Africans Urged to Take Collective Responsibility for HIV/AIDS

  • Delia Robertson

A patient undergoes a pin prick blood test inside a mobile healthcare clinic parked in downtown Johannesburg, 29 Nov 2010

A patient undergoes a pin prick blood test inside a mobile healthcare clinic parked in downtown Johannesburg, 29 Nov 2010

Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe has urged South Africans to take collective responsibility to reduce the spread of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Motlanthe was speaking at an event to mark World AIDS Day.

Speaking on a walkabout among poor families affected by HIV/AIDS in Mpumulanga province, Motlanthe said it is time for South Africans to begin speaking with family, friends and colleagues about the disease and act to care for those infected and affected by the disease.

Motlanthe said this would help in addressing stigma and discrimination associated with HIV and usher in a society where respect and equality become a way of life.

Motlanthe and health officials handed out care packages to families in the impoverished community of Driefontein where he visited four homes in which grandmothers care for children orphaned by AIDS.

In the past year South Africa has more than doubled, to $4.9 billion, its expenditures on treatment and prevention, and has the largest treatment program in the world. These measures are starting to bear fruit - the prevalence among pregnant women has stabilized, and there are also fewer new infections in the 15-to-25-year age group.

But 2.8 million people in South Africa are thought to be HIV-positive, and experts are warning that even with the best prevention programs, as many as 5 million more will be infected during the next decade. They also warn that at this rate, comprehensive treatment will become unsustainable. Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi told national radio this presents a severe challenge for the future.

"The fact that the number of people who are positive is still very high; the fact that the co-infection rate - that means the number of, the percentage of people who have got both TB and HIV - the fact that it is the highest in the world; the fact we [still have] 70,000 children born HIV-positive every year; [all of this] means there is still a battle in front of us," said Motsoaledi.

In June, the government launched a program to counsel and test 15 million South Africans by June next year. About 5.5 million have since been tested, leaving just six months to do 10 million more. The government hopes that if more people know their HIV status, efforts to encourage behavior changes to reduce infections, will yield better results.