President Zuma, his deputy Kgalema Motlanthe and Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi will launch the much-awaited HIV Counselling and Testing (HCT) campaign at Natalspruit Hospital, in Katlehong, on Gauteng’s East Rand.
‘This is the largest campaign on HIV counselling and testing in the history of the AIDS epidemic, not only in South Africa, but in the history of the AIDS epidemic in the world’¦ It’s a day that we have waited very long for’, said Mark Heywood, Deputy Chairperson of the South African National AIDS Council (SANAC), which will lead the campaign.
The HCT campaign seeks to have 15 million South Africans tested for HIV over a one year period starting today. Its long-term objectives are four-fold. They are to mobilize people to know their HIV status; to create greater HIV prevention awareness; to cultivate a health-seeking behaviour amongst people; and to increase access to AIDS treatment, care and support services.
Heywood singled out the importance of the media in making this effort a success.
‘We’re going to put particular reliance on the media because this campaign, we believe, can save millions of lives, can prevent millions of infections and can better many people’s lives. But to do that we need everybody to understand what it is that we are embarking upon and to give us a chance to succeed in this very, very significant national effort’, he said.
For the first time South Africans are being vigorously called on to find out their HIV status, and senior government leaders and politicians are at the forefront of the campaign.
But in calling for 15 million South Africans, including politicians, to take the HIV test Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi maintains that the decision to disclose one’s HIV status is a personal one.
‘We haven’t taken a decision to push anybody, whether it’s a politician or a leader or a celebrity to disclose their status and we want to keep it that way. I believe that the stage will come in South Africa where we’ll disclose willingly and all that. Disclose to your beloved ones next to you for support. That one we’ll keep on encouraging even during the counseling’, Motsoaledi said.
Deputy Chairperson of the South African National AIDS Council, Mary Heywood, cautioned that the road ahead of the campaign will not be easy. He called on all South Africans to support this national effort.
‘As SANAC we would appeal to people to look at this campaign and not pre-determine its failure, but, if you see gaps and if you see weaknesses, to help us to fill those gaps and to fill those weaknesses because this has never been done before. So, the first time we spot a problem let’s not use the problem to pull this thing down because we need people to have confidence and to have conviction in this as we go forward’, he said.