Motlanthe: 'Journey towards Aids-free world has begun'
South Africa has made significant progress in combating HIV/Aids, Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe said in Potchefstroom on Saturday.
"A few years ago it was almost impossible to imagine that such progress would be evident in our country," he said in a speech prepared for delivery.
"I can confidently say that the journey towards an Aids-free world has begun, and South Africa is definitely on the right path."
Strides made in combatting Aids was reflected by the increase in life expectancy in South Africa from 56 years to 60 years between 2008 and 2011.
The increase could also be attributed to expanding access to antiretroviral treatment, he said.
More people were enrolling in the antiretroviral programme, bringing the number of people on treatment to 1.9 million to date.
There had been a reduction in rates of mother to child transmission from eight percent in 2008 to 2.7% in 2011.
The rate of new infections had declined, especially among young people which could be linked to safer sex practices.
Motlanthe said he was encouraged by the progress made with the HIV counselling and testing campaign that was launched two years ago. It reached 20 million HIV tests in 20 months.
He, however, warned against complacency and called for better co-ordination to improve the effectiveness of the programme.
An area that remained a concern was the stigma and discrimination towards those living openly with Aids, said Motlanthe.
"The murder of gay men and lesbians, acts of violence such as so-called 'corrective rapes' are a violation of the rights of others and must be condemned in the strongest possible terms."
The South African National Aids Council (Sanac) said the biggest challenge was to reduce new HIV infections in young women between the ages of 15 and 24.
HIV prevention needed to be increased through counselling and testing, male medical circumcision, condom promotion and distribution, and improving efforts at behaviour change.
Minister of International Relations and Co-operation Maite Nkoana-Mashabane called on South Africans to get tested for HIV and lead healthy and responsible lifestyles.
"It is my sincere hope that my decision today to undertake a public HIV test will encourage men and women, irrespective of age, religion, colour, background, to follow suit," she said at a World Aids Day event in Nelspruit, Mpumalanga.
The South African Policing Union (Sapu) said the level of awareness among South Africans had drastically improved.
The union, however, said police management had failed to play a positive role in the fight against the virus.
"We call upon the SA Police Service management to do more in the fight against the victimisation of HIV positive members," Sapu said in a statement.
The Federation of Unions of SA said it would be targeting HIV/Aids and tuberculosis (TB) simultaneously as part of an integrated workplace strategy.
It called on government to adopt a single set of targets for both HIV and TB in the coming years.
The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) said it was impressed by the progress made by government.
"We laud the State for the significant progress and achievement in tackling the pandemic head-on and we are encouraged by the number of people that have turned to testing due at government programmes," the union's general secretary Frans Baleni said in a statement. – Sapa.