Nono Simelela heads SANAC

Simelela who signed on the dotted line at the recent International AIDS Society meeting in Cape Town, left the country five years ago. Although Simelela maintained at the time that her decision was based on personal reasons, it was well known that life under the country’€™s then health minister Dr Manto Tshabalala-Msimang had become untenable.

One of Simelela’€™s few health department allies in the fight to secure treatment for people living with HIV and prevention therapy for pregnant mothers, the then Director General Dr Ayanda Ntsaluba had left in 2003 to join Foreign Affairs.

Simelela has been based in London as Director of the Technical Knowledge and Support Division at the International Planned Parenthood Federation.

Speaking via e-mail from  London Simelela said she was  “very happy” to be coming back.

“I know things are going to be better. I feel lucky to get a second chance to do this work   with the support of all the stakeholders. An AIDS free  South Africa is possible, we need to all believe this and work towards this vision,” she said.

SANAC, which falls under the chairmanship of deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe, is primarily responsible for steering the country towards reaching the National Strategic Plan targets which include initiating  80 percent  of those needing treatment on antiretrovirals and halving all new infections by 2011.

‘€œWe have started the process of strengthening the SANAC Secretariat. I am happy to announce that we have appointed Dr Nono Simelela as the first Chief Executive Office of the SANAC Secretariat. She was able to join us today and will officially commence duty on 1 September,’€ Motlanthe announced on Friday.

Prior to joining IPPF, Simelela worked for 20 years in the Department of Health, initially as a senior lecturer and clinician in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology in the Medical University of Southern Africa.

She later became head of the National HIV,AIDS and TB Programme in the health department, a position she held from 1998 to 2004.

Despite attempts by Tshabalala-Msimang to drag her feet on any interventions involving antiretroviral drugs, Simelela led the early national programmes in prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV and together with Ntsaluba played a pivotal role in the implementation of the country’€™s treatment programme.

Simelela was a member of  South Africa’€™s first National Committee for the Confidential Enquiry on Maternal Deaths.  

She was also the first black South African woman to qualify as a specialist Obstetrician, Gynaecologist.

A colleague who worked closely with Simelela during her health department stint at the Aids directorate said it would be ‘€œgood to have her come back and contribute in the fight against HIV’€.

‘€œThis is a field she knows well and she knows all the role-players. She has a good reputation and I think she will establish trust quite quickly. Nono’€™s return is part of the homecoming revolution,’€ said the delighted former colleague, who preferred to remain anonymous.


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