19 November 2009
Calls on South Africa and the media to focus on galvanising the nation around World AIDS Day 2009
In the past two weeks, both President Jacob Zuma and Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi have committed to making the fight against AIDS a top government priority. In the National Council of Provinces (NCOP), President Zuma unequivocally acknowledged the devastation of AIDS. This has resulted in increasing mortality and a decline in the country's health. The President acknowledged that the fear, stigma and shame that have surrounded the epidemic must be overcome. He said all South Africans must feel secure to know their status, have access and adhere to treatment without fear of discrimination. He also explained that despite our efforts so far, “we are not yet winning this battle”.
Last week, the Minister of Health, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, gave an unprecedented media briefing in which he too described, in detail, the devastation that AIDS has caused. He presented statistics showing how antenatal HIV prevalence rose from less than 1% in 1990 to about 30% in recent years. He showed how our life-expectancy is now lower than that of Senegal and Algeria, and the abnormal age distribution of death, in which most adults who are dying are between the ages of 25 and 39. He also told how recorded TB deaths have risen three-fold in the last decade. This was a comprehensive and accurate description of the HIV epidemic in South Africa. One of the minister's slides presented mortality data. It appears there was an error in the 2008 mortality figure received from the Home Affairs registry.
We are concerned about the subsequent media controversy over this figure. If there is a mistake, it does not detract from the message that deaths have increased terribly. It does not undermine the legitimacy of the other data presented by the Minister which comes from a range of independent sources.
We appeal to the media not to sow unnecessary confusion at a time when we need common purpose and understanding about the magnitude of the AIDS challenge. SANAC, and indeed the government as a whole, acknowledge the importance of having better and more accurate statistics about HIV and AIDS.
SANAC is aware that the Department of Health is taking steps to improve data, especially with regards to the number of people on treatment. The error is being investigated. But, leaving aside the 2008 figure, what is important to appreciate is that, since 1997, deaths have risen dramatically. Recorded deaths have increased over 90% in a decade. The median age of recorded deaths has dropped from 51 in 1997 to 44 in 2007. The vast majority of additional deaths are due to the HIV epidemic. President Zuma and Minister Motsoaledi are providing leadership to galvanise Parliament, government, civil society and business, in fact all in South Africa, to renew our response to the HIV epidemic. The President and Minister of Health are encouraging more people to test for HIV, improving the prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission and scaling up of the antiretroviral treatment programme so that we can meet the targets of the HIV & AIDS Strategic Plan 2007-2011 (NSP). President Zuma and Minister Motsoaledi have defined the problem and what needs to be done to alleviate it. We appeal to all: Let us work together in a renewed commitment against the HIV epidemic.
Issued by Mark Heywood SANAC Deputy Chairperson on behalf of SANAC civil society sectors Contact: 083 634 8806