“Getting to zero: zero new HIV infections.”

A National World Aids Day event organised by the office of the Deputy President, together with the Department of Health (DoH) and their respective stakeholders was held in the Gert Sibande District on 1 December 2013. Among those in attendance, was the honourable Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe in his capacity as the Chairperson of the South African National AIDS Council (SANAC), the Minister of Health Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, Mpumalanga Premier David Mabuza and Gert Sibande District Executive Mayor, Councillor Mishack Nhlabathi.

Gert Sibande District was chosen to host the event because, currently, the district has the highest HIV/AIDS infection rate in South Africa, with a 45% prevalence of mother-to-child transmission. The theme for the 2013 National World Aids Day was “Get wise. Get tested. Get circumcised”. The event also served as the official launch of the circumcision campaign whose main objective was to encourage men to get medically circumcised as this has proven to decrease one’s ability to contract and infect others with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV).

Minister Dr Motsoaledi, in his address, said the 2010 campaign, with its running theme ‘Universal Access and Human Rights’, “helped upscale the treatment programme because people came to get tested in large numbers.” He encouraged South Africans to get tested at least once a year. The programme was kick-started by the Deputy President when he was tested on site, together with the Minister and the other dignitaries in attendance.

The National Health laboratory Service (NHLS), in its official capacity as the public health laboratory service with laboratories across South Africa’s nine provinces was on site offering varying diagnostic laboratory services. At the core of the NHLS is next generation pathology excellence that supports the mandate of the DoH and it serves approximately 80% of the South African population. Overall, 38 GeneXpert samples with only one positive result, 13 CD4 laboratories and 21 HPV/pap smear samples were collected.

Mr Motlanthe said, “much success has been achieved where HIV/AIDS is concerned since the 10 years that cabinet approved South Africa’s first treatment campaign in curbing mother-to-child transmission. Health practitioner infections during testing rounds have also been reduced by issuing and administering prophylactics timeously when accidental infection occurs. Anti-retroviral drugs are now available at 3500 public health facilities and mother-to-child transmission, overall, has been reduced to 2.7% from 8% in 2008”.

Great strides are being made; in the last eight months alone, 20 million people were tested as part of the HIV Counseling and Testing (HCT) campaign and the GeneXpert, which allows for rapid result confirmation (within two hours), is now available in all public laboratories. The Deputy President further said that, “according to the 2013 UNHIV Report, between 2001 and 2011, there has been a 32% global decline in new HIV infections and the number of treatment enrolment is now officially higher than new infections.”

The focus is now “prevention, prevention, prevention” as much more still needs to be done, particularly in districts like Gert Sibande. Mr Motlanthe closed off the session with the newest slogan adopted by the DoH; “I am responsible. We are responsible. South Africa is taking responsibility.”

Issued by NHLS Communications