CAPE TOWN – The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), the Anglican and Catholic churches and the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC)have told Government to steer away from controversial issues and ‘€œget on with it’€ in the addressing the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

The final straw, which led to COSATU calling a meeting with the churches and TAC, appeared to be the controversy around a letter in which president Thabo Mbeki questions the accuracy of AIDS statistics and the Medical Research Council’€™s AIDS mortality report.

The MRC report shows that between four and seven million South Africans will die in the next 10 years if no treatment is offered to those living with HIV/AIDS.

‘€œThe rights of South Africans to know what is happening is being hindered. Any attempt to play hide and seek points towards the probability that something is going on behind the scenes. We demand that the (MRC) report be made public. Let people see the report. The health department can express what is wrong with the report and let us then judge for ourselves,’€ said Njongonkulu Ndungane, Archbishop of Cape Town and chairperson of the AIDS Commission of the Council of Anglican Provinces in Africa.

The representatives called on government to:

  • Declare that the AIDS epidemic constitutes a national emergency.
  • To take into account the extent and impact of AIDS in all its policies and public statements, providing the moral and political leadership the country so desperately needs.
  • To increase the health budget and ensure cheaper anti-retrovirals and other medications, in order to provide adequate care for HIV-positive people, and to expand prevention and educational campaigns.

In a joint statement COSATU president Willie Madisha, Ndungane, Catholic Bishop in Cape Town Reg Cawcutt and TAC chairperson Zackie Achmat said they were concerned over the attempts of some in government to downplay the impact of the epidemic.

‘€œYoung workers are disappearing and dying from ‘€˜natural’€™ causes in the prime of life, leaving their families behind with no income or support. Clergy report that every week, they are burying people who die of AIDS.

Educators and learners are buried alongside each other. Mothers watch their babies die prematurely and unnecessarily from AIDS. We could continue this list indefinitely,’€ said Ndungane, who read the statement.

The organizations said they were committed to building an effective alliance of civil society to prevent new infections and ensure that people with HIV/AIDS get life prolonging and effective treatment.

This includes the development of a national treatment plan that includes anti-retroviral therapy.

The organizations agreed:

  • To set up a working group that will develop shared campaigns to overcome the denial syndrome that has emerged in some official and unofficial circles;
  • To work with representatives of civil society in the South African National AIDS Council to guide and challenge national leaders to take more positive action on AIDS, to replace the cycle of controversy and denial with co-operation, common purpose and courage in the national interest.

‘€œWe are making HIV/AIDS a top priority, we call on Government to do the same,’€ Ndungane said.