SA government urged to accelerate HIV/Aids programme
Soweto - U.S. Global Aids Coordinator ambassador Deborah Birx has lauded the ambitious plan by the South African government to place two million people on antiretroviral treatment by December 2020 but says President Cyril Ramaphosa’s administration needs to fast-track the campaign now more than ever.
Birx was speaking at the Zola Community Health Clinic this past weekend where she and US Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan interacted with young girls part of the DREAMS project and residents from various townships about the US president’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief programme known as Pepfar.
“When the president (Ramaphosa) announced 2 million people would be on treatment, I went and spoke to my Congress and my leadership at home, excited at the opportunity and the level of political will to have a different future for South Africa and to ensure that everybody who needs treatment is on it,” she said.
But Birx said while the US has been thrilled that the intervention will assist millions of people, it would be foolhardy for the country and the rest of the world to be lax about the pandemic.
She pointed out that her government was initially disappointed at the pace in which the programme has run thus far saying it needs to be accelerated.
“When our President Donald Trump announces something, it is snap snap, now now, we go go. I think at the high level of government (in SA) it was go go but at the site where we serve clients it was not. There has to be a renewed level of commitment at the site level where the health facility is interacting with the client. We have to do a better job serving the needs of clients and eliminating their barrier to access (treatment).”
With only less than 24 months to go before South Africa reaches the target it has set itself, Birx said the numbers at this stage were very vital.
She said up to 80 000 people should be placed on treatment every month.
She added that last month, the Pepfar team working with the Department of Health discovered that up to 42 000 people are currently receiving ARVs at a number of clinics pointing out that “it shows that it can be done.”
"We can’t really hit the 2 million unless we dramatically change the level of work, effort, passion and commitment to our clients whom we need to be serving. That’s what it is going to take,” she said.
Meanwhile, the visit by Sullivan is the most senior visit by a U.S. State Department official since former Secretary Hillary Clinton’s arrived at South African shores in 2012.
On the Pepfar programme he said: I was serving in government, as was Ambassador Birx, when President George W. Bush established the PEPFAR program in 2004. We’ve invested $6 billion here in South Africa in young people like the young women behind us, and it’s a magnificent use of U.S. taxpayer funds, working with the local community and with the provincial and national governments on such a noble end, on treating and preventing HIV/AIDS, but also educating young women and young men and producing the great ambassadors that you see behind us. So again, on this beautiful day it’s great to be here and I’m very grateful for that."
Meanwhile, over the last 16 years, Pepfar has not only introduced programmes that have seen a decline in mother-to-child transmissions but has played a role in equipping the youth, particularly young girls as the HIV prevalence in the country is the highest among young women and girls between the ages of 15 to 24 years.
Girls such as Bridgette Ncube and Karabo Mathonsi, both 15 years old, from Tembisa in Ekurhuleni have benefitted from the programmes hosted by the Aurum Institute in conjunction with Pepfar.
“Over the last year we have learnt a great deal about our rights as young girls and what avenues to explore in order to obtain help when we need it. I’ve certainly learnt how to motivate and protect myself because I come from a hostile environment where the phenomenon of sugar daddies ruins the lives of young girls like me,” said Ncube.
Mathonsi also said she had learnt to speak up against the injustices against young women in her township.
Birx said the empowerment of young girls is exactly what their programme seeks to achieve.