South Africa has renewed its effort to contain the AIDS epidemic, but it will take years to bear fruit.
This is according to a Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) report “Together We Can”, released on the eve of the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS (UNGASS), starting this weekend.
According to the report sub-Saharan Africa remains by far the worst affected – but most poorly resourced – region in the world.
More than 25-million Africans are living with HIV and a further 17-million have already died of AIDS – three times the number of AIDS deaths in the rest of the world.
The death toll claimed by the epidemic in 2000 was ten times that of the region’s wars and civil conflicts.
In South Africa the official HIV prevalence rate has risen to its highest level ever – 24,5%, bringing to 4,7-million the total number of South Africans living with the virus.
The report identifies Uganda as the only African country to have turned around a major epidemic.
Its extraordinary effort of national mobilisation pushed the adult HIV prevalence rate down from around 14% in the early 90s to 8% in 2000.
“Effective action against HIV/AIDS has required sustained and effective leadership at every level – from village to global,” said Dr Peter Piot, UNAIDS Executive Director.
The report states that leadership is fundamental to effective action against HIV/AIDS and that leaders at every level have been at the forefront of the many successes achieved in fighting the epidemic.
“The successes have hinged on the perseverance of visionary and courageous people,” the report says.
“Some are high-powered political and religious leaders and international icons. Others, less visible, have been no less effective in their actions as workers, students, business people, entertainers, politicians, community activists and village leaders.”
The demographic impact of the epidemic is devastating, according to the report.
A child born in southern Africa between 2005 and 2010 can expect to die before the age of 45.
In 15 countries studied by the International Labour Organisation, it was found that there would be 24 million fewer people in the workforce by 2020 as a result of HIV/AIDS.
In some countries, health care systems are losing up to a quarter of their personnel to the epidemic.
In 1999 alone an estimated 860 000 children lost their teachers to AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa.
General Assembly Special Sessions, in which the entire UN focuses on one issue, are called to address matters of the greatest global significance.
The Special Session on HIV/AIDS is the first time in UN history that a Special Session has been called to address a health issue.
This development reflects a consensus at the United Nations that HIV/AIDS is now far more than just a health issue – presenting a major threat to global human and economic development as well as national security.
Health minister Dr Manto Tshabalala-Msimang left for New York earlier this week. She will today (Friday) address a leadership forum hosted by the Henry J Kaiser, Ford and Melinda and Bill Gates foundations.
The minister will also be part of the delegation at UNGASS which will include Foreign Affairs Minister Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, and Social Development minister Dr Zola Skweyiya.
Others include NorthWest Health MEC Molefi Sefularo, member of parliament Dr Olive Baloyi, representatives of the SA National AIDS Council, people living with HIV/AIDS and government officials from the education, health, labour and social development departments.