As the year draws to a close, the excitement about the South African government’s shift of policy on HIV/AIDS is palpable. New beginnings are on the horizon in the way that government will deal with the epidemic in 2010. President Zuma says one of these is to make South Africans a nation that tests for HIV.
‘We are launching a massive campaign to mobilise all South Africans to get tested for HIV. Every South African should know his or her status’, President Zuma said at this year’s main event marking World AIDS Day.
‘I’m making arrangements for my own test. I have taken HIV tests before and I know my status. I will do another test soon as part of this new campaign’, he announced, indicating that he will personally lead the campaign.
In line with this year’s World AIDS Day theme, ‘I am responsible, We are responsible, South Africa is taking responsibility’, Zuma urged citizens to take individual responsibility by finding out their HIV status.
‘It is a difficult decision to make. But it is a decision that must be taken by people from all walks of life, of all races, all social classes, all positions in society. HIV does not discriminate. I urge you to start planning for your own tests’, he said.
The call drew enthusiastic comments.
‘The challenge is on us. It is not easy, but it can be done. And it must be done. We must all get tested. We must all know our status. And it should be something that comes as second nature. We shouldn’t be afraid of it. When we deal with stigma, when we change our ways, especially in terms of measures that people engage in that exacerbate HIV and AIDS, the better we will be as a nation. In 10 years’ time, things will have changed. Those who will come then will look to today as the beginning of a new era’, enthused Mabalane Mfundisi, chairperson of the AIDS Consortium.
Muzi Sihlangu, lives in Meadowlands, Soweto, and was diagnosed with HIV in November last year. He was moved by the president’s call.
‘You know’¦ I’ve got courage and I feel like telling people to go and test where I stay. I think the president, by he’s saying he’s also going to test, will encourage more and more people (to test), Sihlangu said.
Zuma has also challenged senior government leaders to join him in the campaign to promote HIV testing among South Africans.
‘There’s no chance that the president will be part of this campaign without me. We need to take strategic leadership and create a social compact with society for better health outcomes. And that strategic leadership is starting at the level of the president, then the Deputy President will follow and I as the minister in the Department that’s responsible and other ministers’¦ but so should other political leaders, so should people in the entertainment industry, so should people in the religious sector, so should traditional leaders, so should people in the sports sector. That means everybody’, said Health Minister, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi.
This major testing drive is expected to get into gear as early as February next year.