US-SA Out to Maximise Gains in War on HIV

We want to reach people who are living with HIV or are at risk of contracting the virus, write Aaron Motsoaledi and Patrick H Gaspard.

The numbers are so staggering that it is easy to lose sight of the fact that the HIV/Aids epidemic is about people. People like Zama, a young woman from KwaZulu-Natal who found out while pregnant that she was HIV-positive.

Although at her lowest point, Zama did not allow her fear and depression to stop her from doing the right thing for her unborn child.

Thanks to a successful programme targeting pregnant women, Zama’s son was born HIV-free. In June, he celebrated his second birthday.

This is just one of the many success stories resulting from 10 years of collaboration between the South African and US governments in combating an epidemic in which an estimated 6.4 million South Africans are living with HIV.

The targets are ambitious, and the ultimate objective of an Aids-free generation will not be easily achieved.

This is why it is so important for us to work together to make sure we are doing the right things, in the right places, at the right time. That time is now. Lives are at stake.

Together, we want to reach people who are living with HIV or are at risk of contracting the virus.

The South African government is working with the US government to focus programmes on 27 districts identified as having the highest HIV/Aids burdens.

In these districts, US government resources, provided through the President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (Pepfar), will complement those of the South African government, allowing for the strengthening of prevention, care and treatment efforts.

We are maximising our reach by going where the virus is most prevalent.

This strategy ensures that, by 2017, we will jointly be providing HIV counselling and testing for 13.6 million South Africans, supporting 4.2 million people with access to antiretrovirals, and reaching 1.2 million people through multiple prevention activities, including counselling and testing, treatment and voluntary medical male circumcision.

The goal is to make the biggest difference in the shortest time.

As long-standing partners in the HIV/Aids response, we are continuing to work closely with regional and international partners to determine where, and how best, Pepfar resources may be invested to achieve the greatest impact for South Africa.

This is a huge endeavour, involving numerous public and private partners, including the Department of Basic Education, the Department of Social Development, the Department of Correctional Services and the Department of Health.

We encourage you, proud South Africans, to take the lead in this HIV/Aids response, knowing that if we do, perhaps by the time Zama’s beautiful son is old enough to have children of his own, the Aids-free generation will be a reality.

 *Dr Motsoaledi is minister of health and Gaspard is the US ambassador to South Africa.

Originally published in the Sunday Independent, 08/09/2015 »