On March 10, 2010 the South African cabinet officially approved its new HIV/AIDS plan which will go into effect on April 19, 2010. This past World AIDS Day, December 1,2009, South African President Jacob Zuma announced the launch of the government’s new campaign to eradicate HIV/AIDS in a speech at the Pretoria Showgrounds in South Africa. The campaign will focus on mobilizing South African citizens to get tested for the disease and providing more treatment to citizens who are HIV-positive. The premise of the plan is that HIV/AIDS “can only be overcome by individuals taking responsibility for their own lives and the lives of those around them.”1 The goals of the plan include reducing HIV transmission, increasing the number of individuals tested for HIV/AIDS, increasing access to treatment, and increasing awareness of the epidemic.
South Africa has one of the highest prevalence rates of HIV/AIDS in the world. The South African National HIV survey estimates that in 2008, 10.9% of South Africans were HIV positive.2 Past administrations have failed to take action on fighting the epidemic and even failed to acknowledge the existence of a problem. For example, former President Thabo Mbeki questioned the use of antiretroviral treatment to keep HIV-positive individuals alive and thought that a virus might not be the cause of the illness.3 The new HIV/AIDS plan is a positive step forward towards eradicating the disease.
One of the main objectives of the HIV/AIDS plan is to have a 50% HIV/AIDS reduction rate by 2011. South Africa plans on encouraging condom usage by distributing a greater number of condoms throughout the country. The United Kingdom has pledged to donate 42 million condoms to the country. The South African Government is also aiming to test 15 million people for HIV/AIDS by July 2011. The new HIV/AIDS Testing and Counseling (HTC) model provides individuals with the knowledge of their HIV/AIDS status, increased access to life-saving treatment, a support system and information on lifestyle and behaviors that will prevent the disease from spreading. The HTC model will provide voluntary testing that is open to the public. Individuals can volunteer to be tested and will be offered testing at all health institutions.4
An additional objective of the new plan is to provide antiretroviral (ARV) treatment to 80% of HIV- and AIDS-positive South Africans by 2011. While antiretroviral treatment can not cure HIV/AIDS, the treatment helps control the disease by reducing the levels of the virus in the body. Many individual living with HIV/AIDS in underdeveloped and impoverished countries often experience difficulty in obtaining these drugs.5
The new plan focuses particularly on HIV prevention and treatment for pregnant women and children. A large percentage of pregnant women in South Africa are HIV-positive. Without receiving adequate health care services, many of these women spread the disease to their children. South Africa currently has a child mortality rate that is higher than it was in the 1990s. Access to ARV treatment can decrease the chance of mother-to-child-transmission (MTCT) by 50%. Also, ARV treatment to HIV-positive mothers and children increases their life expectancy, allowing mothers to take care of their families. A recent report by the Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS estimates that MTCT can be eradicated by 2015 if adequate resources are invested.6
South Africa has been in the spotlight recently because the country is hosting the upcoming Soccer World Cup. Some have suggested that the recent change in strategy on fighting HIV/AIDS is a result of the pressure placed on the country and its government by the summer event. Officials are worried about the spread of HIV/AIDS to other South Africans and tourists around the time of the World Cup. They expect to have a rise in sex workers, who are prone to contract and spread HIV/AIDS, in the area during the World Cup.7 Whether or not the new South African HIV/AIDS plan was enacted in response to attention surrounding the World Cup, a recalibration of the country’s efforts to fight the epidemic was greatly needed.
1Jacob Zuma, “Address by President Jacob Zuma on the occasion of World AIDS Day,” South African Government, 1 December 2009, accessed 12 March 2010, <http://www.info.gov.za/speeches/2009/09120112151001.htm>.
2 “South Africa HIV/AIDS statistics,” AVERT, 4 December 2009, accessed 12 March 2010, <http://www.avert.org/safricastats.htm>.
3 Celia Dugger, “Breaking with Past, South Africa Issues Broad AIDS Policy,” New York Times, 1 December 2009, accessed 12 March 2010, <http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/02/world/africa/02safrica.html>.
4 “Statement on the Cabinet Meeting held on 10 March 2010,” Politicsweb, 11 March 2010, accessed 12 March 2010, <http://www.politicsweb.co.za/politicsweb/view/politicsweb/en/page71656?oid=165306&sn=Detail>.
5 “Introduction to HIV and AIDS treatment and care,” AVERT, 4 September 2009, accessed 12 March 2010, <http://www.avert.org/hivcare.htm>.
6 “South Africa Unveils HCT Program,” AfricaFiles, 3 March 2010, accessed 12 March 2010, <http://www.africafiles.org/article.asp?ID=23132>.
7 Allyn Gaestel, “World Cup in South Africa poses potential for public health risks and reforms,” 16 January 2010, accessed 12 March 2010, < http://www.mediaglobal.org/article/2010-01-24/world-cup-in-south-africa-poses-potential-for-public-health-risks-and-reforms>.