AIDS crisis - the single biggest threat South Africa faces
By NKOSAZANA ZUMA
Madam Speaker, HIV/AIDS continues to be the most important public concern in the world. No country can claim to be totally free of HIV infection.
The United Nations reported that by December 1997, 30,6 million people were living with HIV/AIDS. In 1997 2,3 million people died of AIDS related diseases. An alarming two thirds of those infected are in sub-Saharan Africa.
South Africa is considered to have the fastest growing HIV epidemic in the world, with close to 50 000 people infected every month. Though HIV/AIDS knows no colour, race or gender, it is however more common amongst the black section of the community.
If affects the most sexually, economically and culturally active people. While no age is spared, the worst hit are in the 15 to 40 year bracket.
Some of the factors that contribute to the spread of the epidemic are:
- poor health services;
- the high incidence of other STDs;
- a lack of sports and recreational facilities;
- the migrant labour system;
- the breakdown of moral fibre in society;
- superstition and ignorance;
- prostitution; and
- poor womens' socio-economic conditions.
It is estimated that up to 80% of women infected with HIV/AIDS in many regions of Africa have had only one sexual partner.
As this epidemic affects young people who ordinarily do not use the health services frequently, it has a potential of creating a huge burden on our health services when its effects begin to be felt. The impact on the economy is going to be very serious, for a number of reasons:
- HIV/AIDS mostly affects the economically active section of the population. This results in the productivity being affected through absenteeism, premature death of both skilled and unskilled workers including those in the management echelons.
- As breadwinners die, the market base shrinks; the result is a projected loss of 1% of the GDP by the turn of the century.
- Hundreds of orphans left by young people who have died of AIDS will create an enormous strain on the welfare services and the country's budget.
- Human resource development will suffer as professionals of all disciplines get infected with HIV/AIDS.
Pupils in schools are infected, so are thousands of students in our tertiary institutions. This indeed will have dire consequences for both the economic and social transformation of our country.
Clearly, Madam Speaker, HIV/AIDS is one single most important threat the country's social stability, economic prosperity and to our very survival as a nation.
Figures indicate that the epidemic is still ravaging our country unchecked. The latest national HIV antenatal survey shows a national average of 16% compared to last year's 14%, with:
- KwaZulu-Natal leading as a province at 26,9%;
- Mpumalanga at 22%;
- Free State, Gauteng, North West and Eastern Cape at between 12% to 19%;
- Northern Cape at 8,6%;
- Northern province at 8%; and
- Western Cape at 6%.
The rise is very steep and the results are indeed devastating. While the situation is cause for alarm, it's not all doom and gloom, Madam Speaker. There are indeed countries that have demonstrated that with a properly coordinated effort, it is possible to change the course of the epidemic.
I would therefore argue, Madam Speaker, that this is one single issue around which there has to be national consensus, not only amongst political parties but throughout all sectors of our community.
The question that begs an urgent answer is: Is it possible for all political parties to participate in a united national campaign, on a nonpartisan basis, spreading a common message for a single common purpose of saving the lives of our people and saving our country from becoming a wasteland?
Are we the duly elected representatives of our people prepared to lead by force of example, working hand in hand despite our political differences and without trying to gain political leverage in the fight against this pandemic?
The problem is sufficiently serious, the consequences are so dire, that we have no choice but to work together for the good of our nation and our common future.
It is sad that since the government launched its HIV/AIDS campaign last Monday, this country has been bombarded, not by messages on how to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, but by unfounded allegations that completely divert public attention from the AIDS crisis.
Since last Monday, as we were embattled about the wrong issue, HIV/AIDS was quietly but surely spreading. About 15 000 people were infected since then.
May I take this opportunity to thank AIDS activists, government departments, trade union movement, business community, religious groups, CBOs and NGOs and all those who individually and collectively have selflessly dedicated themselves to change the course of this crisis.
Regarding the matter that dominated the media this past week, we believe the Deputy President has spoken on the matter.
Hopefully we can now put that matter behind us and collectively work towards saving the lives of our fine young men, women and children who are not infected.
The messages are simple:
- AIDS affects all, but we have the power to contain the epidemic.
- Young people can say no to sex.
- They can have one uninfected partner.
- They should use a condom.
We need to be open about HIV/AIDS. We can never win against something we are even scared to talk about. It is not a disgrace to be infected, but highly immoral to discriminate against those infected.
Let us encourage people to go out and test. Regrettably, of the close to three million South Africans infected, only a handful know they are. Let me hasten to add that it is irresponsible and criminal to spread HIV knowingly.
A people united can never be defeated even by AIDS. Time is running out. Let us all join hands in the fight. It is the only sensible and patriotic thing to do. I thank you
Parliamentary address by the minister of health, March 11, 1998.