An AIDS-free generation is achievable

An AIDS-free generation is achievable
Although a lot of ground has been covered in the fight against HIV-AIDS, stigmatisation and discrimination against people living with the disease – coupled with people’s resistance to HIV testing – are hampering progress to the scourge’s total elimination.

This is the message that emerged from the City of Johannesburg’s World Aids Day imbizo at Metro Centre in Braamfontein on Friday December 4.

The imbizo focused on various issues, including the need to work towards an AIDS-free generation, embracing the UNAIDS’ 909090 Strategy and tackling stigma and discrimination. The City’s Member of the Mayoral Committee for Health and Social Development, Councillor Nonceba Molwele, said the theme for the imbizo – “Getting to Zero” – was in line with the Global World Aids Day themes for the period 2011-2015.

This theme has also been adopted by the national Department of Health, whose vision is: “Zero new HIV and TB infections, zero HIV- and TB-related deaths, zero new infections due to vertical transmission and zero discrimination.”

“The battle against HIV and AIDS is one being fought on several fronts. However, prevalence indicates that infections are rising regardless of the work being done. Increased availability of treatment has seen an improvement in treating cases of TB. [There is also] a decrease in incidences of mother-to-child transmissions but statistics reveal that about 1 000 people are contracting the disease daily in South Africa."

“This is a call to all citizens to get tested and know their status. Knowing your status by being regularly tested enables the City to plan effectively. The government has done a lot in the battle against HIV and AIDS but there is still more to do to end this scourge.

“An AIDS-free generation is achievable if we work together as a collective and educate ourselves to lower prevalence and infection rates,” said MMC Molwele.

Prudence Mabele of the South African National AIDS Council (SANAC) said one of the major hurdles in the fight against HIV and AIDS was the stigma attached to the disease, which often caused people to default on treatment.

“The stigma associated with HIV and AIDS is still a huge issue and prevents many people from being open about the disease,” said Mabele.

She said a Stigma Index was conducted by the Positive Women’s Network in 2014 to measure the levels of stigma and discrimination experienced by people living with HIV and to explore ways to strengthen programmes. Mabele said the index revealed that people living with HIV also experienced internalised stigma, with 31% of the respondents blaming themselves for contracting the disease. About 29% felt ashamed or guilty and 22% had low self-esteem.

The respondents indicated they were fearful of being gossiped about, afraid no one would want to be sexually intimate with them because of their status, being verbally threatened or insulted, and being physically harassed or assaulted.

Dr Nombuso Madonsela of the Gauteng Department of Health said major work was being done to achieve the UNAIDS 909090 targets – ensuring that 90% of all people know their status; 90% diagnosed with HIV receive sustained antiretroviral (ARV) treatment and that 90% receiving ARVs have viral suppression by 2020 and a zero prevalence rate by 2030.

“For us to achieve the targets we need to strengthen our health system, allocate resources to where they will be most effective and reduce new HIV infections by 150 000 annually. In Gauteng, we estimate there to be approximately 1.5 million people living with HIV. However, only 950 000 of these people know their status. We need to drastically increase testing, especially in high-risk or vulnerable communities and groups and monitor whether treatments are working; strengthen prevention measures such as male circumcision; and test and encourage safe sex. Despite the gains made over the years, we have much to do,” said Dr Madonsela.

For more information on HIV and AIDS contact the AIDS Helpline on 0800 012 322 or the City of Johannesburg’s Health Department on (011) 407-6845/29.