New Emergency, New urgency

By Nomatter Ndebele

Following a 10 000-strong activist march on the first day of the International AIDS conference in Durban, the Treatment Action Campaign and SECTION27 hosted a press conference to outline the strategy of the activist groups beyond the conference.

SECTION27 executive director Mark Heywood said: “The Minister of Health said yesterday that his department is already working on our demands for a comprehensive plan to provide all people living with HIV in South Africa with treatment. We welcome this. But this is an easy commitment to make. We will only believe it when we see that commitment translating into real change.”

He also called for a more focused campaign to “turn off the tap on new infections”. While great strides have been made in the country, there are still high levels of new infections each day, particularly amongst adolescents and young women. Heywood said it was important to ensure that young children in schools have access to condoms, as well as HIV tests, together with comprehensive sexual education literacy to empower young people to make better and more informed decisions, which will have a direct influence on lowering the rate of new infections.

Stonewalled

Although there is still a lot of work to be done to ensure treatment for all, the activist group continues to be stonewalled by a lack of funding. The budget for the TAC, dropped by 14 million rand this year alone. Putting the group under great pressure. “Cars run on petrol, and we are the petrol, but we need money,” said Heywood. The TAC, will be calling on funders and sponsors to continue to support NGOs in order for lives to be saved.

Alongside funding issues, the Treatment Action Campaign addressed the plight of Community Health Care Workers. They asked for them to be at the forefront of the struggle for treatment for all. Executive director of UNAIDS, Michel Sidibe made a call for one million health care workers and 200 000 in South Africa. “For 10 years we have been fighting to get this issue heard,” said Violet Kaseke Paralegal at SECTION27.

Although Community Health Care Workers serve as the backbone of the Public Health Care System, they are forced to do so with minimal resources. Many health care workers, work without the basics like gloves and masks which often leads to them dying after contracting communicable diseases from the patients they treat.

“For the Treatment Action Campaign and SECTION27, this conference cannot be business as usual,” said Heywood. “We are looking for more than just commitment and rhetoric. They are looking for change, not just at AIDS 2016, but beyond that too.”

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