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South Africa Leadership Wakes Up to HIV/AIDS

By Bonnie Goldman

November 6, 2009

In other recent good news, South African President Jacob Zuma finally broke definitively with South Africa's former government when he said in a speech, "Knowledge will help us to confront denialism and the stigma attached to the disease." He also discussed the vast numbers of people in South Africa who are dying of HIV/AIDS-related causes.

The lead activist organization in South Africa, the Treatment Action Campaign, called the speech "one of the most important speeches in the history of AIDS in South Africa." In his speech, Zuma detailed how he would address HIV/AIDS in South Africa:

All South Africans must know that they are at risk and must take informed decisions to reduce their vulnerability to infection, or, if infected, to slow the advance of the disease.

Most importantly, all South Africans need to know their HIV status, and be informed of the treatment options available to them.

Though it poses a grave threat to the well-being of our nation, HIV and AIDS should be treated like any other disease.

There should be no shame, no discrimination, no recriminations. We must break the stigma surrounding AIDS ...

Let World AIDS Day, on the 1st of December 2009, mark the beginning of a massive mobilization campaign that reaches all South Africans, and that spurs them into action to safeguard their health and the health of the nation.

Let's hope Zuma remains committed -- for the sake of all South Africans. We have to remember that an estimated 330,000 South African adults and 35,000 South African infants died prematurely of AIDS-related causes because of the South African government's inaction. The number of people living with HIV swelled under President Thabo Mbeki and his health minister, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang (who infamously insisted that HIV could be treated with a mixture of lemon, garlic and herbs). This was a completely avoidable tragedy in the epicenter of the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

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