The speech below was delivered by the DA Shadow Minister of Health, Michele Clarke MP, during the World Aids Day debate in Parliament this morning.
Click here to download the speech of the DA Shadow Deputy Minister of Health, Madeleine Hicklin MP.
Today, we commemorate World Aids Day. It is crucial that we reflect not only on the progress made but also on the challenges that persist in the fight against HIV/AIDS. As members of Parliament, it is our responsibility to scrutinise government’s actions, to ensure that good policies are implemented to make a difference, and to ensure that the health and well-being of our citizens are prioritized.
South Africa has a long and tumultuous history with HIV/AIDS. The scourge of this epidemic has affected millions of lives, and around 8.7 million people in this country still live with HIV/AIDS. Sadly the stigmatisation is still a very real concern for them. Over the years, we have witnessed both commendable efforts and significant shortcomings in the response to this crisis.
South Africa leads the research on HIV/Aids treatment and millions of people today are alive due to the efforts of excellent researchers and caring doctors like Prof Quarraisha Abdool Karim and Professor Glenda Gray. Their dedication to researching and treating this stigmatised disease and marginalised group of people shows the calibre of medical professionals we are fortunate to have in this country.
In recent years, we have seen a somewhat shift in approach from government, with increased awareness and commitment to addressing the HIV/AIDS epidemic. South Africa has made strides in HIV treatment, and availability of ARV drugs has improved, ensuring that those living with HIV can access life-saving medication.
The North Gauteng High Court’s ruling that pharmacists may prescribe ARVs and programmes like the Pharmacist-Initiated Management of Antiretroviral Treatment (Pimart) are a game changer that have ensured increased access to ARVs.
However, let us not be blinded by progress alone. SA still remains one of the countries with the highest HIV infection rates globally.
We acknowledge that some positive steps have been taken, but we must also confront the reality that much work remains to be done. The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has compounded the challenges faced by the healthcare system, further straining resources and diverting attention from longstanding health issues, including HIV/AIDS.
It is troubling that 23% of HIV positive people in the country are not receiving treatment, according to the Minister of Health.
We must address the persistent issues of stigma and discrimination that hinders progress in HIV prevention and treatment. Access to healthcare services, particularly in rural areas, remains a concern and government must do more to ensure that all citizens, regardless of their location or socio-economic status can access quality healthcare.
We must call for greater transparency in the allocation of resources dedicated to HIV/AIDS programs and a comprehensive review of current policies to identify gaps and inefficiencies, ensuring that every Rand is utilized effectively to combat this epidemic. The under-expenditure of R62 million during 2022/23 on the National Department’s HIV, AIDS and STIs programme is very problematic given the persistence of the epidemic and the strides that still need to be made towards achieving the UNAIDS 95-95-95 strategy.
In conclusion, on this World AIDS Day, let us remember those who have lost their lives. Let’s celebrate the people like Yvette Raphael, who was diagnosed with HIV in 2000, and is the co-founder and co-director of Advocacy for Prevention of HIV and AIDS (APHA) in South Africa. She’s a human rights activist who has spent her life advocating for people living with HIV/AIDS, young woman, and lesbian, gay and intersexed communities.
Let’s remember Andrew Mosane, a social justice and AIDS activist, who died on 15 January 2021 at the age of 45. He was and activist who brought the voice of the marginalised people and communities to the centre of the AIDS response. He was known to many South Africans as well as internationally for the work he did.
This is just to mention a few; there are many heroes within our country has actively campaigned and assisted so many South Africans on fighting this scourge.
Together, let us work towards a future where HIV/AIDS is a distant memory, and the health and well-being of our people are safeguarded.