NEWS & ANALYSIS

More needs to be done to combat HIV/AIDS - Helen Zille

WCape Premier says province is embarking on a big voluntary testing drive

STATEMENT BY HELEN ZILLE

PREMIER OF THE WESTERN CAPE

"16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children: "Get tested to Win"

Today marks the launch of the Western Cape Government's 16 Days of Activism campaign for no violence against women and children, which will run from 28 November to 10 December 2011.

The main focus of this year's campaign is to start addressing women and children's vulnerability to HIV infection in a meaningful and substantive way. Key to achieving this is for everyone to take responsibility for knowing their HIV status and to get tested.

The Western Cape's voluntary testing programme is one of our government's success stories.  In the past year 1 042 942 people have been voluntarily tested for the HI-Virus and 103 000 people were on antiretroviral treatment by the end of October in a provincial treatment programme that is widely recognized as global best practice.

But there are thousands of people who have not been tested, and who continue to put their health and that of others, at risk.  Persuasion has not worked.  We would rather use incentives than coercive methods to ensure that all adults regularly test their HIV status.

I am therefore pleased to launch our "Get tested and Win" campaign which will run over the next 16 days. Under this campaign every citizen that takes an HIV test between 28 November and 9 December at any of the Western Cape Government's testing points across the province will be entered into a draw where they will stand a chance of winning a R50 000 cash prize or five R10 000 cash prizes.

The suffering and hardship experienced by women and children living in the Western Cape and the rest of country as a result of HIV/Aids is extremely serious.

For example:

  • The Statistics SA 2008 General Household Survey estimates that there were around 100 000 children living in approximately 56 000 child headed households (a household in which all members are younger than 18 years) across the country. The survey estimated that around 1000 of these children live in the Western Cape. The high number of children left fending for themselves is largely attributed to the HIV/Aids pandemic in our country, which has been responsible for around 45% of all deaths in South Africa over the last decade.
  • Studies have also shown that young women and girls are 1.5 times more likely to be HIV-infected than their male counterparts - The Stats SA 2010 Mid-year Population estimates revealed that approximately one fifth of women in their reproductive stages are HIV positive. The HIV prevalence rate amongst women between the ages of 15 and 49 years was 19.7% as compared to 17.3% overall within this age group.
  • Stats SA also estimated that in 2010 approximately 1,6 million people aged 15 and older; and approximately 183 000 children would be in need of ART's; and
  • The total number of new HIV infections for 2010 is estimated at 410 000. Of these, an estimated 40 000 will be among children.

It is clear urgent intervention is required to protect women and children from becoming infected with HIV/Aids.

The Western Cape Government spent R661 million on its HIV/Aids programmes (over and above the R1.2-billion provided by the global AIDS fund) during the 2010/2011 financial year. While our programmes have enjoyed numerous successes including reducing the mother-to-child transmission of HIV to below 3% through our triple therapy programme a lot still needs to be done.

The fact is that the susceptibility of women and children becoming infected with HIV is directly linked to the high levels of sexual violence committed against them.

Often women and young girls become infected as a result of being coerced into having unprotected sex with men who are ignorant of their HIV positive status and who believe it is their right to have inter-generational sex with multiple concurrent partners. This is violence against women and young girls. Their choice is taken away from them and they are exposed to risk and harm.

It is crucial that we start changing behaviours in the province and the rest of the country so that we turn this current situation around. We need to inculcate a mindset of personal responsibility when it comes to HIV/Aids, and in particular, the spread of the virus. There is nothing "uncompassionate" about society requiring individuals to take personal responsibility for their health. 

We must draw a clear distinction between people living with HIV and the behavior that spreads HIV.  People living with HIV have a right to live stigma-free lives and receive treatment.  But they do not have the right to engage in sexual behavior that puts others at risk.  And public policy must make this distinction clear.  In the past these lines have been blurred.

This shift must apply to both men and women, and to people who are HIV positive and HIV negative. Those who are HIV-negative must practice sexual responsibility.  We strongly support the national government's ABC strategy which gives people three options:  abstain, be faithful or condomise.  Option A is rarely chosen.  The government has focused on option C but does not have the capacity or the means to apply it consistently.  We have almost entirely ignored option "B" which is the most effective intervention available.   

Those who are HIV-positive must take responsibility for safeguarding their health and that of others. They must go for regular check-ups in order to monitor their viral load so that they can be put on antiretrovirals if needed. More importantly, they must disclose their HIV status to all their sexual partners and must ensure they used a condom every time they have sex.

The starting point is that everyone must get tested so that they know their HIV status. Once you know this you can take the necessary steps to optimise your health and assist in preventing the spread of the virus.

That is why our "Get tested to Win" campaign has incentivized getting tested over the next 16 days.

Any person who wants to be entered into a draw to win a R50 000 cash prize or five R10 000 cash prizes must go to their nearest testing station between 28 November and 9 December and take a HIVcounselling and test (a list of all testing stations will be uploaded onto www.westerncape.gov.za by 12h00 today). Anyone with queries about the campaign can phone our provincial government hotline: 0860 142 142 or visit the provincial government website.

While HIV counseling and testing will still be available at all health facilities across the province only people who are tested at a provincial government testing station will be entered into the draw.

Furthermore, people can only be tested once during this period to be eligible for one of the cash prizes.

Our government is committed to changing behavior in the province. Our "Get tested and Win" campaign is a pilot to test the effectiveness of programmes aimed at incentivizing behaviour change as part of the provincial government's longer-term strategy to reduce the burden of disease in the Western Cape through increasing wellness and disease prevention.

The fact is that over and above the six lucky winners of our cash prize draw; everyone who gets tested will win because they will know their HIV status.  And then they can get the treatment they need to manage their illness and take responsibility to avoid passing it on to others.

If we all know our HIV status and work together to reduce the spread of the virus, we will also start winning the battle against HIV/Aids in the Western Cape.

I therefore urge men and women to go to their nearest testing station to get tested over the next 16 days.

We hope that this campaign will contribute to empowering women and young girls when it comes to their sexual and reproductive health and rights.

While our government is committed to ensuring everyone in the province has access to antiretroviral treatment if they need it, it is also crucial that citizens start taking responsibility for their own sexual health and for protecting the health of those around them, particularly vulnerable groups in our society including women and children.

Statement issued Zak Mbhele, Spokesperson for Western Cape Premier Helen Zille, November 25 2011

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