KHOPOTSO: The air of oneness and a common goal wafted around at the opening of the two-day consultation meeting in Boksburg, on the East Rand. Deputy Health Minister Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge’s comments during her opening address seemed to represent every participant’s feelings.
NOZIZWE MADLALA-ROUTLEDGE: Our nation needs each and every one of us to take our part. Our nation is in dialogue to save lives. Our nation is united in the face of a global and national health emergency which is taking lives’¦ We have gathered here at this historic national consultative summit to apply our collective wisdoms. We want to ensure that the National Strategic Plan on HIV and AIDS and STIs, which will come out of this process, will be one that that will stand the test of time.
KHOPOTSO: Madlala-Routledge’s conciliatory tone was echoed by COSATU’s General-Secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi, who summarised South Africa’s often tumultuous discourse between government and other key stakeholders on HIV/AIDS.
ZWELINZIMA VAVI: This Plan marks a turning point in our new struggle ‘ the struggle to stop the AIDS pandemic. Last year, we closed the year by celebrating the World AIDS Day under a new environment. We shunned denialism and chest-beating claims and embraced a completely new spirit. We saw, coming to the fore, a true partnership of unity between government, civil society and business. We hailed then the new spirit that signals an end to acrimonious debates and stand-offs between government and the important segments of our people. Today, we see a historic coming together of the country to take forward that partnership and that spirit.
KHOPOTSO: Six months of consultation, debates and hard work have gone into the preparation of the National Strategic Plan on HIV and AIDS and STIs. Described as ‘bold, ambitious’ and ‘far-reaching’, it aims to halve the number of new HIV infections and to offer treatment, care and support to 80% of people with HIV and AIDS within five years. The Plan under discussion is the third such plan the country has had. The first was the blue-print on AIDS drafted by the former National AIDS Council of South Africa (NACOSA) 13 years ago for the first democratic government of South Africa under Nelson Mandela. Dr Clarence Mini, a member of the current National Strategic Plan Committee, was a member of the team that put together that very first Plan. His optimism about the new Plan is peppered with some sad nostalgia.
Dr CLARENCE MINI: It’s sad that, when in 1994 we handed (a) similar plan to the government, our hopes were as high as they are this time around.
And sadly, we didn’t take the strides that were needed in the past 13 years. But I’m very, very optimistic now that that is behind us. We’re going to build on all the experiences and the experiences of other countries to make sure that we make a difference to the people that are HIV-infected and affected.
KHOPOTSO: Escalating the provision of antiretrovirals is one of the key priorities the Plan has identified. With 300 000 people on treatment, activist groups argue that the government’s ARV rollout programme is not yet reaching the numbers of people that should be on treatment. Lamenting the fact is Prudence Mabele, a representative of people living with HIV and AIDS on the South African National AIDS Council (SANAC) and participant in the two-day meeting in Johannesburg.
PRUDENCE MABELE: We ought to do what the Plan is saying and we ought to improve a lot of things, like, as we were sitting we just got a call. One of our comrades has just died. The problem for her to die was accessing the ARVs late. I guess we need to move fast and not hesitate to take our work forward’¦ We need to scale up rapidly. But at the same time, not do quantity’¦ We need to monitor because sometimes others will suffer from the liver or that or that’¦ We have shown with the rollouts that it has worked. So, I believe we could do it quickly and we could do it right with quality.
KHOPOTSO: The summit will today discuss issues on treatment, care and support; human and legal rights; and monitoring, evaluation and research. It is expected that the wide-ranging plan, particularly the component of scaling up provision of ARVs, might exceed the funds available for it. Treasury has committed R14 billion to the Plan. Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka is widely hailed as the force behind the new energy in government’s response to AIDS.
PHUMZILE MLAMBO-NGCUKA: We are aware that there is a suggestion that we may need more. But we also know that spending R14 billion is not child’s play. So, before you wish for more, inhliziyo mayingabawi (let’s not be greedy), let us spend effectively and qualitatively, a whopping R14 billion. And to the extent that we may have additional expenses, and the numbers have not been properly quantified and firmed up, we really cannot talk about the additional funds with authority. Obviously, we will mobilise other sources where we need them.
KHOPOTSO: The Deputy President and trade union movement COSATU, appealed to the business community to join the party and to bring more funding when needed. The conclusion of the Plan rests on the outcomes of today’s deliberations. It is hoped that the final Plan will be released before Easter.