Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa says South Africa’s accomplishments in expanding HIV treatment and improving life expectancy is an inspiring story of civil society’s activism and vigilance.
The Deputy President was addressing the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) 6th National Congress on Thursday at the Lesedi Cultural Village in Sterkfontein, in Johannesburg.
He said the strides that have been made in expanding the treatment is a story of life, hope and possibility, where collaboration and united action overcomes untruths and mistrust.
“Together we have crafted the new National Strategic Plan (NSP) to arrest the spread of new infections and to expand treatment. We must acknowledge that concerns have been raised about certain elements of the plan.
“We must engage on these concerns and find agreement on how to address them. However, we should be careful not to allow whatever gaps there may be in the plan to undermine its tremendous value as an instrument to unite South Africans in the struggle against HIV, TB and STIs.”
Considering where the country comes from, the disagreements that for too long thwarted government’s response to HIV, the Deputy President said it would be unwise for anyone to turn their backs on a plan that has the potential to make a real and lasting impact.
Through the NSP, he said, South Africa is prioritising vulnerable communities that are at a high risk of contracting HIV and being infected with TB.
In addition, to expanding treatment, the NSP aims to galvanise the nation to protect themselves from preventable infections. It aims to empower women through skills development, access to health services and economic opportunities.
Deputy President Ramaphosa said the role of civil society organisations like the TAC in making the NSP work cannot be overstated.
“Organisations like the TAC have a major role in particular in influencing the provincial plans which are funded and led by provincial councils. They must challenge provinces to set bold targets and to lead inclusive responses.
“The TAC needs to use its grassroots organisational capacity to make sure that its achievements at a national level are replicated in the provinces and districts.”
Provision of Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis
Since September 2016, government has removed CD4 count as a condition for ARV treatment. In June 2016, it began to provide Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) to sex workers in several programmes.
“We remain committed to expand the provision of PrEP to all vulnerable young women. We are working hard to achieve quality universal health coverage for all South Africans.
“We are investing strategically to build an adequate national health infrastructure. We are working to improve the quality of care and achieve greater efficiency at our primary health care facilities.”
He said he has seen greater collaboration between government, the private sector and NGOs in addressing the social determinants of health through the ideal clinics.
“Just like drug-resistant TB, we face the risk of developing drug-resistant HIV if patients do not adhere to ARV treatment. Such a prospect would reverse the many gains we have made to date in finding a cure or vaccine for HIV.
“When clinics and hospitals run out of ARVs, we expose our nation to this risk. We are thus innovating and exploring ways to exploit technology to ensure efficient and timeous access to life saving medication,” he said.
The Deputy President said work is underway to set up the institutional mechanisms that will drive the implementation of the National Health Insurance (NHI).
“We look to the TAC to intensify its support for the implementation of the NHI so that no South African is excluded from quality health care.”
Despite the progress that the country has made, the Deputy President says the journey towards an AIDS-free generation is far from over, as there are still many hills to climb and many obstacles to overcome.
The co-infections of HIV and TB remain a real and immediate threat. Many people are trapped in fear of knowing their HIV status. Many still die needlessly because they have to travel long distances to reach a clinic to access treatment.
Many people become infected because they do not have condoms or because they are not able to make informed decisions about their sexual behaviour.
“We live in a society that continues to discriminate against people living with HIV or those infected with a curable disease like TB. Ours remains a society that stigmatises patients.
“It ostracises vulnerable groups like sex workers and the LGBTI community. The advances we have made in turning the tide against HIV and TB are daily undermined by poverty, inequality and lack of economic opportunities.
“We must confront the high rates of HIV infection among adolescent girls and young women. We must all be alarmed about the challenges posed by the emergence of the ‘blue tooth’ phenomenon among nyaope drug users. We must acknowledge that our health system is under great strain and that it is struggling to meet the needs of our people,” the Deputy President said.