Lessons learnt from HIV became the mainstay of our Covid-19 response: Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane

Lessons learnt from HIV became the mainstay of our Covid-19 response: Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane

Acting health minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane said SA used the lessons learnt in tackling the HIV/Aids pandemic to move swiftly and decisively in dealing with Covid-19.

She made the statement during a United Nations general assembly high level online meeting on HIV/Aids on Thursday night.

The meeting provided recommendations to guide and monitor the HIV/Aids response beyond 2021, including new concrete commitments to accelerate action to end the pandemic by 2030.

Kubayi-Ngubane said with the emergence of Covid-19, countries around the world and, in particular SA, are faced with the challenge of tackling two pandemics at the same time.

“With regards to the HIV/Aids pandemic, the government in collaboration with civil society, business, labour and other social partners, devised the largest HIV treatment programme in the world,” Kubayi-Ngubane said.

She said the excellent HIV/Aids scientific research in the public and private sectors, community health infrastructure and activism were leveraged, mobilised and in some cases repurposed for the Covid-19 response.

“Lessons learnt from HIV/Aids about collaboration, truthfulness, transparency and proactive communication became the mainstay of the Covid-19 response, with daily briefings by the health minister and members of the Ministerial Advisory Committee. The president’s national addresses on the progress made in the fight against the pandemic became the most anticipated briefings and were renamed ‘family meetings’,” she said.

Kubayi-Ngubane said as the impact of the lockdown measures became evident, concerns about the imperatives of balancing saving lives and livelihoods informed by science, social justice activism and community concerns became a central part of the national response.

She government expanded its already extensive social grant system to cover additional millions of people who had lost income and others to ensure social protection and safety nets.

“This was expanded to other economic and business entitie hit hard by the shocks of lockdown measures.

“Drawing on the lessons from 20 years ago, when SA was in the eye of the storm as we fought and won against big pharma to ensure access to life-saving HIV/Aids medication, we have this time teamed up with India to make a proposal to the World Trade Organization for a temporary waiver for Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (Trips) to enable vaccine manufacturing and technology transfer,” she said.

Kubayi-Ngubane said as lessons were learnt from HIV/Aids for the Covid-19 response, SA is building innovative approaches that will transform the HIV/Aids and TB responses going forward.

“Restrictive lockdowns to reduce transmission and limit the number of people requiring hospitalisation at the beginning of the response had challenging consequences for the economy, especially on people’s livelihoods. Routine essential health and social services, including HIV and TB services, were significantly disrupted in part due to fear and stigma. In future careful planning will be required on the part of service providers, and so will optimal communication with patients and communities.” 

She said important innovative approaches to service delivery, including digital access, became a defining feature during Covid-19 and have transformed current and future models of service delivery.

“Community provision of antiretroviral therapy and other chronic medications, already available at a much lower scale before the pandemic, were expanded significantly. The number of people living with HIV and other people getting their prescriptions and medicines through pickup points outside health facilities or receiving them through community delivery points has increased significantly since last year.” 

Kubayi-Ngubane said protective measures for Covid-19, such as masks and improved ventilation, are being used as standards for TB prevention in health facilities and outside.