South Africa to Provide Additional Training, Support for Health Care Practitioners Working With HIV-Positive Patients
South African Deputy President Jacob Zuma on Sunday at a National Health Providers' Prayer Day gathering in eastern South Africa announced to an audience of approximately 5,000 people, including Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, that the South African Department of Health plans to take steps to address the shortage of health practitioners who are trained to provide care for HIV-positive patients, the South African Press Association reports. Currently only 2,000 of the country's 27,000 registered health practitioners have received such training, according to SAPA (South African Press Association, 11/10). Zuma announced that the government agency would begin hosting a series of training sessions for the country's medical care providers and would establish in each of the country's nine provinces public "centers of excellence" on HIV/AIDS care, which would be responsible for establishing and distributing HIV/AIDS care guidelines and for supporting and educating health practitioners who work with HIV-positive patients. Zuma added that the government recognizes that the HIV/AIDS epidemic is "taking its toll" on health care workers who counsel and work with sick and dying AIDS patients every day. "It is both physically and emotionally draining and we truly acknowledge the role of our health workers in this regard," Zuma said.
Government Campaign to Reduce HIV/AIDS Stigma
Zuma also announced that the South African government was "intensifying" its campaign against discrimination against HIV-positive individuals, including drafting a plan for "national education on legal and human rights" of HIV-positive people. According to SAPA, the plan would be targeted at both those who discriminate against people with HIV/AIDS and those who avoid being tested for HIV because of the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS. Zuma added that it was "everyone's mission" -- not just the mission of HIV-positive South Africans -- to fight HIV/AIDS stigma. "What we need to bear in mind is that there is no longer a distinction between those living with HIV/AIDS and those who are not," he said, adding, "We are all living with HIV/AIDS as we are all affected in some way, even if we are not infected [with] the virus" (South African Press Association, 11/10). Social Development Minister Zola Skweyiya, who also spoke at the gathering, said that the government, businesses and churches must all work together to fight HIV/AIDS (South African Press Association, 11/10).
IAPAC Encouraged by South Africa's HIV/AIDS Treatment Trend
The International Association of Physicians in AIDS Care said in a press release on Friday that it is "encouraged" by the recent steps the South African government has taken toward preventing the spread of HIV and treating its HIV-positive population. Although "a coherent plan that would safely supply antiretroviral medications to the millions who need them" has not yet been established in South Africa, the government has indicated that it supports the goal and is finding ways to reach it, IAPAC President Jose Zuniga said. "In less than a year, President Thabo Mbeki and his cabinet have gone from overstating the danger of antiretroviral therapy to recognizing that such treatment is necessary to prevent the untimely death and improve the quality of life of one in four South African adults," Zuniga said. IAPAC commended the government for making progress on lowering the cost of antiretroviral drugs and on improving the country's medical infrastructure in order to facilitate distribution of the drugs. Mulamba Diese, executive director of IAPAC's Southern Africa Regional Office, added that the "entire world community" should "lend assistance as they are able so that these promising first steps can be turned into a clear and thorough HIV/AIDS treatment plan whereby appropriate care is provided to all" (IAPAC release, 11/8).