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On World Aids Day, SA cannot celebrate

To mark the 25th annual World Aids Day on Sunday, Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe – who is also the chairperson of the National Aids Council – and Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi, re-launched the country’s HIV counselling and testing campaign in Piet Retief in Mpumalanga.

Over 20-million people have been tested since the campaign was launched in 2010. According to the National Aids Council, the country has six-million people living with HIV, a third of whom are on treatment. In 2012, there were an estimated 370 000 new HIV infections and 240 000 Aids deaths. South Africa has the biggest HIV treatment programme in the world, with about 2.4-million people on treatment.

Also part of the day’s events was the drive for men to get circumcised. Studies have shown that medical circumcision – the removal of the entire foreskin – reduces a heterosexual male's risk of contracting HIV by up to 60%. More than one million men between the ages of 15 and 49 have been circumcised since the government launched medical circumcision as part of its HIV prevention efforts in 2010.

However, the Treatment Action Campaign – an HIV activist organisation – says government efforts to curb the scourge of HIV are being undermined by a shortage of medicines and mismanagement. The group accuses provincial MECs of failing to live up to national commitments. The organisation planned a silent march in Piet Retief on Sunday.

"We feel attention must be drawn to the serious problems in the health system in the area. It will not help people to know their status if they cannot get access to ARV treatment, counselling or quality healthcare," the organisation said in a statement. "We cannot celebrate while clinics do not have stock of essential HIV and TB medicines, while hospitals run out of food and important equipment."

Last week, a report by the pressure group Stop Stock Outs Project said that at least one in every five public health facilities have run out of HIV or TB medication. The project, which consists of Section27, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and the Treatment Action Campaign, said the drug shortages have become a national crisis.

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