UNAIDS Executive Director joins President Zuma to launch national HIV counselling and testing drive in South Africa

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UNAIDS Executive Director joins President Zuma to launch national HIV counselling and testing drive in South Africa

26 April 2010

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UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé joined the President of South Africa Jacob Zuma (right)for the launch on 25 April 2010. Credit: UNAIDS/A. Vlachakis

UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé was invited by the South African government to join in the launch of a new testing campaign with President Jacob Zuma, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi, Premier Nomvula Mokonyane and civil society representatives Vuyiseka Dubula from the Treatment Action Campaign and Nkululeko Nxesi from the National Association of People living with AIDS.

Some 2000 people were on hand at the Natalspruit hospital in Erkuhuleni, Johannesburg. In his address at the launch, Mr Sidibé applauded President Zuma and Minister Motsoaledi for their leadership and commitment to the HIV response in South Africa, and for the unprecedented mobilization of the nation to know their HIV status.

This campaign is the biggest national mobilization in South Africa around any one single issue since the end of apartheid. Testing 15 million people by the end of 2011 is the largest programme scale-up in the world we have seen so far. It is historic.

Michel Sidibé, UNAIDS Executive Director

Mr Sidibé noted: “This campaign is the biggest national mobilization in South Africa around any one single issue since the end of apartheid. Testing 15 million people by the end of 2011 is the largest programme scale-up in the world we have seen so far. It is historic.” He went on to say that South Africa was “writing a new page in the story of Africa by being the architects of the end of the HIV tragedy.”

In his statement, President Zuma disclosed his negative HIV status and encouraged South African citizens to test regularly. He stressed that the disclosure of one’s status was an individual decision and not mandatory.

The President implored the people of South Africa to change their attitudes about the epidemic and the stigma attached to HIV. He mentioned that stigma arose from ignorance, and that the benefit of the voluntary HIV Counselling and Testing campaign is its capacity to educate people about HIV and to promote the rights and dignity of people living with HIV.

The ceremony included the launch of the HIV Counselling and Testing campaign song, which was performed by Choome and Arthur Mopokane, two of South Africa’s popular singers, as well as a performance by the traditional musician Ihashi Elimhlophe.

The launch concluded with Mr Sidibé, Minster Motosaledi, Premier Mokonyane and other South African leaders testing for HIV.

South Africa’s HIV Counselling and Testing campaign is the largest HIV counselling and testing scale-up in the history of the HIV epidemic. The campaign aims to test 15 million people for HIV and to expand access to antiretroviral treatment to 80% of those in need by 2011.

South Africa has the world's largest population of people living with HIV; an estimated 5.7 million people in the country are living with HIV, representing nearly one sixth of the global disease burden. Approximately 18% of adults in South Africa are infected with HIV.