HIV/Aids prevalence: Stop talking and act now!

Anthony Benadie MPL

Provincial Leader – Mpumalanga

Note: The following address was made by Anthony Benadie to the Mpumalanga Provincial Legislature during the Snap debate on World Aids Day on Tuesday 3 December 2013.

Today the house will have three distinct debates namely: the Mpumalanga University, 16 Days of Activism against the abuse of women and children, World Aids Day – and in a few moments adopt a range of departmental annual reports.

How ironic for all these aspects to come up for consideration on a single day, each which have a decisive role to play in the fight against HIV/Aids.

For it is only through:

  • Proper education
  • Mutual respect within relationships, healthy and safe sexual relations, and adequate prevention of abuse,
  • Good governance and adequate funding for health care and NGO services, and
  • A proper functional health department,

That we can even begin rolling back the advances which the HIV/Aids pandemic has made throughout communities in Mpumalanga.

Honourable Speaker, on 26 July 2013, the Mail and Guardian published an article entitled “Mpumalanga loses ground in war on HIV”, describing that the province has fallen far behind in the drive to deliver key infrastructure essential for HIV/AIDs treatment.

The article was published three months after Premier Mabuza committed himself to the fight against HIV/Aids, following a protest by the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) and the National Association of People with AIDS (Napwa).

Just last week the same organisations boycotted the World Aids Day Celebrations with a silent protest in Piet Retief, whilst Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe and Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi re-launched the country’s HIV counselling and testing campaign in Piet Retief.

This protest was due to the fact that efforts being made to curb the scourges of HIV are being undermined by a shortage of medicines and mismanagement in state owned healthcare facilities in Mpumalanga.

The DA has raised the similar concerns on numerous platforms; one of them was to lay a charge against the Department of Health with the Human Rights Commission late last year.

We believe that attention must be drawn to the serious problems in the health system in the province. It will not help people to know their status if they cannot get access to ARV treatment, counselling, or quality health care in the province.

A year ago my colleague Honourable SJ Masango called on the Mpumalanga Government to  take the fight against HIV/AIDS seriously,  as  the province’s HIV prevalence rate increased from 34,7% in 2009 to 35,1% in 2010. However it saddens me to stand here today knowing that the province’s HIV/AIDS prevalence rate has increase to 36,7%.

This province has the second highest rate after KZN, however it must be highlighted that the Gert Sibande district has the highest prevalence rate in the country.

This shocking statistic should be a warning sign for Mpumalanga residents as well as government to realise that the fight against HIV/AIDS needs to be strengthened in our province, not just with words but with action and dedication.

While the department increased the amount of active community care givers to 3676 in the past financial year, many of them are not properly equipped to care for the community they serve – as they do not receive basic equipment like latex gloves to protect themselves from illnesses they are exposed to. More disappointing is that many caregivers wait as long as six months to be paid their R1500 stipend, yet are expected to continue serving the ill.

This was amplified in June when Public Protector Thuli Madonsela stated that “Government is placing the burden of the poor onto the poor” after hearing about the way Mpumalanga government treats community health care workers.

Honourable Speaker, we cannot effectively fight HIV/Aids and curb the spread of further infections when our health department is constantly facing shortages. In the past financial year alone, the department experienced shortages on:

  • TB drugs ( 5% stock out)
  • 15% on condoms,  distributing 6 851 000 less condoms than originally planned, and
  • 21% of HIV patients could not receive their INH prophylaxis medication due to supply shortages, in the first quarter of this year.

The Department of Health simply cannot stand for stock shortages on ARVs, TB medication and condoms. Stringent guidelines must be put in place for suppliers to ensure zero stock shortages on these items, and decisive action must be taken against any departmental official whose negligence results in the shortage of these critical items.

Honourable Speaker, the fight against HIV/Aids can no longer just be an annual talking point – it must become a daily action point. Only when this stance is taken by government and communities, can we begin striving for HIV reduction and an Aids-free province.