South Africa launches massive UN-backed HIV prevention drive

26 April 2010 – South Africa – home to the one-sixth of the world’s population living with HIV – today unveiled an ambitious campaign to prevent and treat the virus, a move hailed by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).

The drive seeks to test 15 million people for HIV by next year, a six-fold jump in just two years, as well as reach 1.5 million people with antiretroviral treatment by June 2011, up from 1 million last year.

Nearly 6 million people – or 18 per cent of all adults – in South Africa live with HIV, the largest population of people in the world.

“South Africa can break the trajectory of the HIV epidemic,” said Michel Sidibé, UNAIDS Executive Director, who, along with some 2,000 other people, attended the drive’s launch by President Jacob Zuma in Gauteng province, in the country’s north.

“This campaign promises to be the equivalent of ‘truth and reconciliation’ for the country’s AIDS response,” he said, referring to efforts to heal the country after the end of apartheid.

At the launch, Mr. Zuma disclosed his own negative HIV status and encouraged fellow South Africans to be tested regularly and called for the stigma surrounding the virus to be lifted.

HIV testing opens the door to conversations around a host of difficult issues, including sexuality, violence against women and intergenerational sex, UNAIDS said.

Every person tested for the virus during the campaign will receive 100 condoms, hopefully jump-starting a new dialogue about HIV prevention and safer sex.

One of South Africa’s key challenges in expanding treatment is the steep cost of antiretroviral drugs, which are up to 30 per cent higher than the average global price, and UNAIDS has welcomed a recent decision by the country’s Government to slash the cost of treatment.

“This is the first time any one country plans to scale up HIV prevention and treatment so quickly for so many people,” Mr. Sidibé said, congratulating the country for “writing a new page in the story of Africa by being the architects of the end of the HIV tragedy.”

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