- After failing to persuade its young people to change their sexual behaviours, the South African government today announced a five-year plan to cut by half the number of new HIV infections in the country. South Africa has one of the world's highest HIV infection rates.
The South African government said it is set to address the stigma attached to the pandemic, a factor that had discouraged many people from being tested. It is therefore ready to expand HIV/AIDS treatment and care program so that it covers 80 percent of those who contract the disease.
According to 2005 figures, 5.54 million South Africa are living with the AIDS virus, making it the world's country with most HIV infected. Of this figure, women victims represent 40 percent while that of adults stands at 19 percent.
The new government report concurred that there are still "too many people living with HIV, too many still getting infected. The impact on individuals and households is enormous," the report said.
Over the years, AIDS activists have been grilling the South African policy on the disease. The country's Health Minister on leave, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, has been widely punched for using an international forum to promote garlic, lemons and beetroots instead of antiretroviral treatments.
But according to activists, the new plan marks a turning point in the struggle to win war against a pandemic that feeds on humans. For Zwelinzima Vavi, the Secretary General of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), the new spirit will end the acrimonious debate and standoff between the government and stakeholders.
The report stated that several factors, including poor coordination and lack of clear targets and monitoring has helped the disease to become a major cause of premature death in South Africa where mortality rates increased by 79 percent within seven years.
The South African government has organised a two-day conference, which brings activists and businesspeople to strategise the implementation of the plan.
According to the acting Health Minister, Jeff Radebe, the government's plan includes ambitious targets to reverse the disease within five years. The proposed plan should be finalised by the South African National Aids Council.
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, South Africa's Deputy President, said the South African government had budgeted US$ 1.89 billion for the plan.
However, the report also asked for the promotion of behavioural change among young people. The Deputy President has therefore appealed to the youths to delay their first sexual experiences. "We would like to make sure our young people believe there can be and there will be an Africa free of AIDS," she said.
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