South Africa has a long way to go in stopping the spread of HIV among key population groups such as sex workers, men who have sex with men, and people who inject themselves with drugs using unsanitised needles, President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Monday.Ramaphosa said this in his weekly message to the nation on the eve of World AIDS Day which falls on 1 December annually.
“We must end the stigma and discrimination towards these populations. We cannot hope to end HIV if we ignore the needs, concerns and rights of any part of our population,” Ramaphosa said.
As part of the prevention measures, the South African leader said the country’s health workers needed to increase efforts to medically circumcise young men to reduce their risk of acquiring HIV/AIDS.
He, however, said the government was encouraged by the findings of a recent study by HIV Prevention Trials Network scientists on pre-exposure prophylaxis.
The study found that long-acting injections once every eight weeks are better than the daily tablet used for HIV prevention, he said, adding that “these findings have the potential to significantly strengthen our response to the epidemic.”
“If we are to succeed in ending HIV/AIDS as a public health threat within the next decade, we need to combine these medical breakthroughs with fundamental changes in behaviour.
“We also need to tackle the economic and social conditions that contribute to high rates of infections,” the president said.
South Africa is said to have the highest number of HIV-positive people in the world, and has vowed to reduced deaths and new infections from the incurable virus.
“Unfortunately, we are far from reaching the goal we committed ourselves in 2016 of achieving a 75 percent reduction in HIV infections by 2020,” the president said.
However, he added, all was not lost in the country’s efforts to fight the disease in spite of the complications brought about by the coronavirus pandemic which has derailed certain HIV-prevention activities like medical circumcisions for men.
He revealed that South Africa’s treatment programme has contributed to a reduction in the number of AIDS-related deaths by 60 percent. This is due to a greater reduction in AIDS-related deaths among young people, he said.
“If we continue to succeed in doing this, we are likely to end HIV/AIDS as a public health threat by 2030,” the president said.