Investment in AIDS Rebuilt South African Health Care System, Must Continue

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The following post is by HIV Medicine Association Executive Director Andrea Weddle, reporting from the 18th International AIDS Conference in Vienna.

South African Minister of Health Aaron Motsoaledi speaks to the press after his plenary address to the International AIDS Conference attendees

“Invest in health. Invest in AIDS. Investing in AIDS is investing in health,” were the closing remarks from the South African Minister of Health Aaron Motsoaledi during his plenary address to the International AIDS Conference attendees. He was welcomed by loud applause as he acknowledged past wrongs by the South African government in its response to AIDS and announced the country’s commitment to turning the tide on AIDS in the country.

Motsoaledi set the stage with the statistics that continue to astound.  In 1990, 0.09 percent of pregnant women were infected with HIV disease. By 2005 the figure jumped to 30 percent, holding steady for the last several years at 29 percent.  Pregnant women with HIV face a 10-fold increase of dying during pregnancy; 50 percent of children with HIV less than five years of age die; and one-third of people with HIV will develop tuberculosis in South Africa.

While these sobering figures are not new, the South African government’s transparency in reporting them and their commitment to meeting ambitious targets is.

The goals which the minister reported will be met by 2011 include cutting new HIV infections in half; providing care, treatment and support to 80 percent of those who need it; and testing 50 million South Africans through which an estimated 1.6 million people with HIV are expected to be identified.  The goals are part of the country’s National Strategic Plan (NSP) and will be supported by new resources pledged by the South African government.  Interestingly the targets for the U.S. National HIV/AIDS Strategy released last week, including cutting new HIV infections by 25 percent by 2015, pale in comparison. But it is clear given the magnitude of the AIDS crisis in South Africa that their government cannot go it alone. With financial donors scaling back and some like the U.S. expanding their focus to other diseases, Motsoaledi warned, “HIV/AIDS brought the South African health system back from the brink of collapse. To retreat now will reverse the significant gains we have made.”

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