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High hopes for improved Aids council

Johannesburg, South Africa

30 April 2007

HIV/Aids budgets should not be rolled over, Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka warned on Monday at the launch of the newly constituted South African National Aids Council (Sanac) in Kempton Park.

"I urge provinces to run with implementation of programmes," she said, also emphasising the need to tackle opportunistic infections such as tuberculosis (TB).

Mlambo-Ngcuka chairs Sanac, a partnership between the government and civil society including the business and labour sectors.

The council will serve as a platform for collaboration and the sharing of experience, said acting health minister Jeff Radebe. He said several sectoral coordinating committees -- accountable to Sanac -- will be established in the areas of mining, public service, education, agriculture, transport, community development and justice.

There will also be a country coordinating mechanism, chaired by the health minister, which will interact with the Global Fund to Fight Aids, TB and Malaria.

Sanac on Monday endorsed the new National Strategic Plan for HIV/Aids, which aims to halve the rate of new infections by 2011. "To achieve this, we need to intensify the implementation of prevention interventions aimed at changing behaviour and reduce sexual transmission," said Radebe.

Another of the plan's aims is to provide a package of treatment, care and support services to at least 80% of people living with HIV and their families by 2011, he said.

A third goal is to lessen the disease's effects on individuals, families and communities through prevention, treatment, care and support, monitoring, evaluation and research, and human and legal rights.

"We have already made significant progress in expanding services for prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV. To date, 80% of primary health care facilities ... are providing the services and our target is to reach 100% by the end of 2007."

Radebe said the "bold targets" reflect the government's commitment to the fight against HIV/Aids and sexually transmitted infections, and pointed out that achieving them will require "intense collective effort".

"Most importantly, reaching these targets requires individual behavioural change and responsibility from all of us as the people of South Africa."

While the Democratic Alliance (DA) welcomed the new Sanac and the new plan as "steps in the right direction", it questioned whether there are sufficient funds to drive the projects.

"It is not clear yet whether funds will be available, as money has not been budgeted to implement the new strategic plan fully," said health spokesperson Gareth Morgan.

He also questioned whether there will be the political leadership necessary to win the war. "The deputy president has done an excellent job. However, it remains to be seen who will take over the political leadership within the Department of Health."

Nonetheless, Morgan said the plan is one of the bold steps the government needs to take to combat HIV/Aids and the DA hopes it will indeed provide much-needed relief from the pandemic. -- Sapa

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