Reflections from the SAAIDS Conference:
At the plenary session of the conference yesterday, 21st June, the co-chairperson of the South African National Aids Council and Chair of the Civil Society Forum, Steve Letsike, reflected that with the world’s largest ARV programme, no one living with HIV should be dying of HIV and AIDS in our country. Letsike reflected that without psychosocial support interventions to anchor the HIV treatment programme, we become a ticking time bomb as a nation.
Other key themes emerging from yesterday’s deliberations include an exhortation from speakers, to continue focusing on the structural drivers of the HIV and TB epidemic, and to not lose sight of the fact that all of these epidemics are experienced by the same person. The same *Mbali who is 22 years old, is the same Mbali who is HIV positive, with a 5-year-old child, has been raped multiple times in her young life and is going through intimate partner violence from the father of her child. Solutions therefore need to take an integrated approach to ensure that at each level, from the community to the clinic, to the police services where Mbali seeks help, her needs are met holistically.
These reflections give impetus for HIVSA and its community partners to continue providing much-needed psychosocial support to communities infected and affected by HIV, as we continue striving towards ending the HIV pandemic by 2030 globally.
We also learned that the search for an HIV vaccine continues and that long-acting injections for TB treatment and HIV might be closer than we think, which will reduce treatment burden and fatigue.
Another key theme that has been threaded throughout the conference is the focus on young people and HIV and AIDS, with a focus on both prevention and removing the barriers to HIV treatment for young people. In her remarks at the opening ceremony on the 20th June, KwaZulu-Natal’s Health MEC, Nomagugu Simelane-Zulu noted that young people have been neglected by social and behaviour change communication interventions, which she felt, is lamentable.
HIVSA’s Choma online magazine therefore has its work cut out, to continue engaging with girls and young women.