South African union boss attacks government `betrayal` on AIDS

Keith Alcorn
Published: 27 September 2005

The leader of South Africa’s trade union movement has strongly criticised President Mbeki and his government for failing to provide leadership in the fight against AIDS, and says that Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang prefers to speak about the need for healthy eating rather than confronting the denial of HIV that is rife in South African society.

In a speech to the Treatment Action Campaign’s national congress, Zwelinzima Vavi, General Secretary of COSATU, attacked the speed of the antiretroviral roll out and called for education targeting the poorest members of society to be stepped up.

“This lack of government leadership on HIV is a betrayal of our people and our struggle. We are sitting by while the biggest threat to our nation since apartheid is ruining our families and our communities. We have to turn this situation around.”

“With the destruction trail that is so evident - when last did any of us hear our President mentioning the words HIV and AIDS? When last did we hear our Minister talking about the need to implement government policy including provision of the antiretrovirals and or accounting for failure of government to meet targets set by the government? Too many times we hear her speaking about the spinach. There is nothing wrong with encouraging our people to eat healthily and to live healthily. But there is something very wrong when there is silence about the other government policy such as the need to ensure that people have access to cheap antiretrovirals.”

“We in COSATU saw the initial commitment to provide antiretrovirals through the public system as a major victory. But what do we see? True, in the richest provinces - in Gauteng and the Western Cape - treatment is now available to many. But in too many others, the waiting lists are growing while roll out remains painfully slow. Our people still die because they are workers, while the rich still survive on private care.”

In a statement on Monday, the Department of Health responded. “By June 2005, more than 61 000 were already initiated on anti-retroviral treatment in the public health sector.”

"There are now 178 public health facilities providing HIV and Aids related services, including anti-retroviral drugs. These facilities are spread across all the 53 districts in the country and cover at least 60 percent of local municipalities," the ministry said.

Prevention money wasted on `consumerist` campaign

Mr Vavi also criticised the LoveLife prevention campaign, which has been held up by the Department of Health as a sign of the government’s commitment to HIV prevention.

“The government in particular continues to lag in education and prevention. It has left this core campaign largely to rich advertising companies that think they can sell AIDS information like they sell luxury cars or cellphones. The dependence on LoveLife has wasted hundreds of millions of rand on glossy publications that provide almost no real information and that seem geared to selling a lifestyle of consumerism for the rich.”

“In the real world, where most live, two out of five workers still earn under R1000 a month, and unemployment is running over 40%. Where are the LoveLife publications and broadcasts for workers and the poor? Where are the education programmes to reach all our people where they are - in the townships, in villages, in schools and in the workplace? Every government department should be informing our people about HIV. Every civil society organisation should be pulled into the struggle.”

“To start with, we need to end the culture of denialism across society. HIV and AIDS should be core issues in every Alliance campaign, including the upcoming local government elections. Every major government speech should help increase awareness of the HIV crisis and fight the stigmatisation of people with AIDS. If LoveLife can't come up with an effective education campaign, the funds should be redirected to organisations that are more in touch with the majority of our people.”

“On the ground, every public servant should be trained to educate and help people affected by HIV and AIDS. The lifeskills curriculum must deal explicitly and openly with HIV and sexuality, and must be available for every student on a consistent basis. The whole education and prevention campaign by government must be redirected to meet the needs of ordinary South Africans. This campaign must be backed up by making counselling and testing part of routine healthcare in the public system.”

Community Consensus Statement on Access to HIV Treatment and its Use for Prevention

Together, we can make it happen

We can end HIV soon if people have equal access to HIV drugs as treatment and as PrEP, and have free choice over whether to take them.

Launched today, the Community Consensus Statement is a basic set of principles aimed at making sure that happens.

The Community Consensus Statement is a joint initiative of AVAC, EATG, MSMGF, GNP+, HIV i-Base, the International HIV/AIDS Alliance, ITPC and NAM/aidsmap

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