December 1, 2006

Government presents four-year plan to tackle HIV- Crisis / AU tells South Africa to fight crime

The South African government has moved to end the years-long controversy over its policies on HIV and AIDS by unveiling the outline of a four-year national strategic plan to cut the rate of new infections by half and provide packages of treatment, care and support for 80 percent of those living with HIV. The details of the plan will be finalised in 2007, Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka announced at a World AIDS Day event. The latest draft of a "broad framework" document agreed upon by the South African National Aids Council was released to coincide with her speech. Mlambo-Ngcuka, acting in her capacity as chair of the council, has become the lead figure in new government efforts to fight HIV and AIDS. She has reached out to groups in civil society, such as the activists of the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), who were at loggerheads with Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang over the health ministry's approach to the crisis.
The framework document declared as its first key priority area: "Reduce by 50% the rate of new HIV infections by 2011." Among its objectives is to persuade young people between 14 and 17 not to become sexually active. "Younger people should delay their sexual debut and abstain," Mlambo-Ngcuka said. "And when people do become sexually active, they should use condoms consistently. We should all avoid having multiple and concurrent sexual partners - let us commit to being faithful by sticking to one sexual relationship at a time."
Another objective of the framework is to reduce the rate of incidence among children less than five years, and to provide anti-retroviral drugs to pregnant women. The document bluntly acknowledged that the impact of HIV and AIDS on individuals and households was "enormous." It said: "AIDS has been cited as the major cause of premature deaths, with mortality rates increasing by about 79% in the period 1997-2004, with a much higher increase in women than in men… Increases in maternal and childhood mortality are some of the devastating impacts, threatening the country's ability to realise the millennium goals targets of 2015."
Mlambo-Ngcuka made a strong appeal in her speech for a united response to HIV and AIDS. "If we focus our energies on… differences between us," she said, "We will lose sight of our shared goals and weaken collective resolve and effort to implement this plan.… Nothing less than a formidable partnership between government and civil society can assist us in achieving our goal of reversing the tide of this pandemic."

In a different context, the African Union's elite watchdog body has urged South Africa to make the fight against violent crime its top priority, the Sunday Times reported. In a hard-hitting confidential report that will go to heads of state in January, a panel of African elders warned that crime, poverty, unemployment and the political domination of the ANC threatened the stability of South Africa's hard won democracy.
The 300-page African Peer Review Mechanism report submitted to President Mbeki’s cabinet in November brushed aside the country's own self-assessment report submitted in June and relied on non-government submissions and its own year long research to conclude that fighting crime should be the country's top priority. "A great deal has been achieved during the past 12 years... However, much remains to be done as the nation continues to face a number of challenges," the report said. The report also reinforced US ambassador Eric Bost's warning in a Sunday Times interview last week that crime could torpedo South Africa's hosting of the 2010 Fifa World Cup. Key threats to South Africa's stability listed by the panel included the high level of violent crime, high levels of crime against women and children, unemployment, black economic empowerment which enriches too few people, the critical shortage of skills and the immense gap between the rich and the poor and the division of society by race and class. (allafrica.com / Sunday Times, South Africa)

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