GERT SIBANDE. – In April all eyes were on Mpumalanga as the South African National AIDS Council (SANAC) held its first plenary meeting for the year here.

This district has the highest prevalence of HIV of all 52 health districts in South Africa.

The SANAC meeting was closely watched by the community and civil society in this district who hoped that having the meeting in Gert Sibande will change the attitudes of political leaders and spur government departments to participate more actively in the district AIDS council.

The Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) in Mpumalanga said it welcomed the sitting of SANAC in Gert Sibande, as the district struggles with poor management of the HIV programme.

“Political leadership in HIV is none existent in this district and the TAC is hoping that this will change,” said Thandi Maluka, TAC district coordinator, before the start of the meeting. “On the opening day of the plenary, TAC in Mpumalanga will hold a picket and submit a memorandum of demands to the chairperson of SANAC, Kgalema Motlante and the premier of the province, Mr D.D. Mabuza, demanding more political involvement and leadership on HIV and better coordination of the AIDS council.”

Despite the poor management on district level, all 82 health centres in the region are providing antiretroviral treatment for patients with HIV.

“We don’t know what SANAC is doing, we are in the dark,” said Mr Lucky Gwebu of the National Association for People Living with AIDS (NAPWA) in Mpumalanga. “In his state of the province address the premier, Mr D.D. Mabuza, promised to lead us in fighting the pandemic by actively participating in the provincial AIDS council, but now is he is not involved. Maybe if he was more involved our HIV prevalence will be lower than it is now.

“The province needs a budget to do more community-based campaigns, education and awareness on HIV. At the moment it is only the Department of Health which is doing more work on HIV than any other government department, including the Office of the Premier. As NAPWA we are saying it is high time people living with HIV take the lead in fighting new HIV infections and educate the community.

“Community leaders, political leaders and religious leaders of this district need to come together and lead the community in fighting this pandemic through well-coordinated, multi-sectorial structures such as the district AIDS council, the local AIDS councils and the ward AIDS councils,” said Gwebu. OurHealth/Health-e News Service

Cynthia Maseko is an OurHealth Citizen Journalist reporting from the Gert Sibande health district in Mpumalanga.