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Revamped AIDS council makes its debut

Red Ribbon - for generic use
Scientists as activists? (AuntieP/Flickr)

After a troubled past, a revamped South African National AIDS Council (SANAC) was recently unveiled, coinciding with the announcement that the country has achieved universal access to HIV treatment. South Africa must now ramp-up prevention, new SANAC CEO Fareed Abdullah said.

The newly reformed body is now undergoing a wide range of initiatives to improve its effectiveness and the country’s HIV prevention efforts, including increasing national funding for prevention activities, reinvigorating provincial AIDS councils and broadening representation within the body’s leadership.

In 2010, SANAC released a mid-term review of the country’s national strategic plan on HIV, which found that the national AIDS body was not user-friendly, failed to coordinate provincial HIV responses, and faced shortcomings in provincial monitoring and evaluation. The report proposed a new SANAC structure to make it “fit for purpose”.

Responding to these recommendations, and to criticism by civil society, SANAC was reformed over the last 18 months. The body will now hold a new, annual meeting comprised of representatives from the research community, labour unions and people living with HIV. At this meeting, participants will discuss major policy issues and review progress on the country’s current national plan to address the twin epidemics of HIV and tuberculosis.

SANAC leaders, representing diverse groups including women, sex workers and businesses, approved the restructuring on 17 August 2012. New leaders, following nomination and selection, will undergo an orientation at the end of October, according to South African Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, who, as deputy president, chairs the body.

The body recently held the inaugural session of this plenary body in Pietermaritzburg, the capital of South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province, which Motlanthe has described as the epicentre of the country’s HIV epidemic.

Treatment grows as prevention lags

At the meeting, SANAC announced new figures showing that two million South Africans are now on antiretrovirals; this figure covers about 80 percent of those estimated to need treatment in the country, surpassing the country’s 2006 universal access target, according to a UNAIDS report.

The country funds about 80 percent of its HIV response domestically, and about 70 percent of this is earmarked for treatment - leaving less than 20 percent for prevention. In the first quarter of 2012, the country only met about 30 percent of its condom distribution target, handing out 84 million condoms - about one condom per month for each of South Africa’s estimated 24 million males.

According to CEO Abdullah, SANAC has begun negotiating with the treasury department to try to allocate more money towards prevention.

Resurrecting provincial AIDS councils?

Provincial AIDS councils have been historically ineffective, but SANAC will be helping to strengthen these, Motlanthe said in a statement.

“Each province has unique economic, social, infrastructural and cultural characteristics. There are population dynamics, health and community systems, and human resource issues that determine the impact of programmes, thus requiring context-specific approaches… for success,” he said. “This underpins the importance of having functional and efficient Provincial Councils on AIDS to better monitor the provincial responses.”

According to Abdullah, SANAC will now be providing resources to provincial AIDS councils and has been advocating for high-level politicians to join these groups. Already, KwaZulu-Natal Premier Zweli Mkhize has begun taking an active role in his province’s council, drawing the attention of several other premiers, Abdullah told IRIN/PlusNews.

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This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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