Showcasing South Africa's achievements in the eradication of HIV/AIDS in Africa during a panel discussion at the 19th International AIDS Conference on Monday night, thecountry's Deputy President, Mr. Kigalema Motlanthe, said South Africa's multi-sectoral approach and the partnership between government and civil society in the fight against HIV and Aids has helped the country turn the tide against the pandemic.
The special session was discussing pragmatic ways on how country plans can be shaped and efforts mobilized in order to achieve maximum public health impact utilizing resources such as the Global Fund and in-country resources. Other panellists included Ukraine, United States and Rwanda. The latter has an HIV prevalence of 2.9 percent and its response to the Aids epidemic has been widely praised.
Motlanthe said South Africa has come a long way since the days government and civil society pulled in different directions in their responses to HIV and Aids.
"As a country, we started on a shaky footing. Our responses were not well coordinated and often government and civil society pulled in different directions. The multi-sectoral approach which finds expression through the South African National AIDS Council (SANAC) has improved our coordination and responses," he said.
SANAC is the official body that coordinates the national government response with respect to policies on HIV and Aids through overseeing the implementation of the National Strategic Plan on HIV and Aids. It is chaired by the Deputy President and has 19 sectors represented within it.
Asked what lessons South Africa can share with other countries on its approach to HIV and AIDS, the Deputy President said: "There has to be unity of purpose with a clear strategy and programme behind which all sectors and citizens in general can be mobilized."
He also emphasized the importance of coordination and integration within government itself so that responses are not in silos. "We have several national departments represented within SANAC and have an Inter-Ministerial Committee led by the Minister of Health. We also have Provincial Councils on Aids which are chaired by our Premiers and the governance and coordination structures cascade further down to our metros, local councils and wards."
This integrated approach, he said, ensures that various sources of information such as costing, planning, research and other evidence-based decision-making tools are used to inform government's response to the epidemic.
So, whereas the pandemic has killed many South Africans, caused physical and mental anguish, created a generation of orphans and was in the past a source of tension between government and civil society, there is also one other way of describing the HIV and Aids saga in South Africa. It is a multi-sectoral success story. And the world is beginning to take notice.