DURBAN - THE Covid-19 pandemic severely affected the fight against HIV and Aids in the past two years.
According to KwaZulu-Natal Premier Sihle Zikalala, the coronavirus negated programmes introduced to curb the increase in the number of people living with HIV in the country.
“The South African National Aids Council states that our national HIV programme performance was severely affected because of the coronavirus between 2019/2020 and 2020/2021.
“Condom distribution was reduced by 39%, voluntary medical male circumcision was reduced by 99%, total tests done for HIV came down by 46%, and the total number of patients initiated on antiretroviral therapy went down by 35%,” said Zikalala.
The premier was speaking at an event commemorating World Aids Day at Gugu Dlamini Park, in Durban, on Wednesday.
Zikalala said the setback was mostly seen in eThekwini as the city failed to surpass the 90% threshold of people who know their HIV/Aids status and those who are on treatment and virally suppressed, compared with four other big districts in the province.
“We are pleased to report that four districts in our province met their target of 90% of people who know their status, 90% on treatment and 90% who are virally suppressed. These are Ugu, uMzinyathi, uMkhanyakude and Harry Gwala districts.
“However, we are concerned that eThekwini metro is not performing well on the second 90% target. It needs to improve from 72% to 90%. Also, the third 90% target (viral load suppression rate) needs to improve from 84% to 90%,” said Zikalala.
The premier said that the government had adopted an approach guided by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAids) which included the economic inclusion of women and the youth as a crucial component for defeating the three-headed health crisis of Aids, TB, and Covid-19.
“UNAids informed our theme: Working Together to End Inequalities, Aids, TB, and Covid-19. “Some of the inequalities reveal themselves through health-care access, gender inequalities and racial inequalities as well as the infringement of people’s human rights.
“In this regard, we are enjoined to come to terms with the new normal. We are called upon to stand side by side and face the consequences of colliding pandemics,” said Zikalala.
Provincial chairperson of the Natal House of Traditional Leaders Phathisizwe Chiliza said there was a proliferation of stigmas attached to people living with HIV and this was as a result of a lack of education among people who were not directly affected.
“The only way in which we can push out existing stigmas in our society is to intensify the educational programmes in the streets, communities and churches. We are grateful to have moved away from the killing of HIV-positive people, as we have seen done in the past, because as traditional leaders we were concerned at the advent of coronavirus, when the educational programmes shifted to focus on the pandemic.
“But, this day (World Aids Day) will remind government of the importance of telling people how this other pandemic works and how it can be eradicated,” said Chiliza.
Mandisa Dlamini of the Gugu Dlamini Foundation said that breaking the cycle of discrimination was not only about people disclosing their status but also accepting others.
“It makes me proud to see young people in this kind of engagement. In the past, the usual approach was them and us, as in the old people are talking about the virus that affects us as well, but without us being part of the conversation.
“We have to be able to accept that our message is not connecting and appealing to the youth, which means involving the youth as stakeholders,” said Dlamini.
Zonke Ndlovu, 42, who has lived with HIV for 21 years, said she was grateful to be part of the campaign to help people who live with the virus, as she had experienced all the different stigmas associated with it.
“I am thrilled to be a part of this programme to help people, especially those who are not well educated about HIV.
“And the proudest moment is going to the outskirts of the city to bring people back to medication and making sure those that have defaulted do not fall into the trap of thinking they have defeated the virus or disease because it takes a lot of years to be on the right path,” said Ndlovu.