Leaders throughout South Africa praised the latest HIV initiative by President Jacob Zuma, who announced policy changes that include increasing the availability of antiretroviral treatment.
"At last, the ruling party, the African National Congress, has made a U-turn by embracing and acknowledging the problem that HIV/AIDS is a reality that affects every South African," said Democratic Alliance health spokesperson Mike Waters.
Zuma's aggressive stance against HIV is in stark contrast to the position of former President Thabo Mbeki, an AIDS denialist. Criticism of Zuma's most recent action was rare and focused on his role in Mbeki's administration. "[Zuma] should have asked for forgiveness because he stood by Mbeki and his policy while working as deputy president," Waters said.
Overwhelmingly, however, health and government officials welcomed Zuma's pronouncements.
"This is a promising political willingness that we have never seen, in terms of government's response to HIV/AIDS," said Catherine Tomlinson, spokeswoman for the Treatment Action Campaign.
A senior researcher at the AIDS Law Project said Zuma's announced intent to get tested for HIV would encourage testing among South Africa's population. "The president has projected a deep level of commitment and understanding of the challenges we are facing," said Jonathan Berger.
The executive director of UNAIDS said it was possible for South Africa to reduce its infection rate by 50 percent by 2011. "We need to change this dynamic of the virus while people are having access to drugs," said Michel Sidibe.
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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.