Feature story

President of South Sudan commits to strengthening the country’s response to HIV

02 October 2013

UNAIDS Deputy Executive Director, Programme, Luiz Loures shaking hands with the President of South Sudan, Salva Kiir Mayardi. Photo courtesy of South Sudan Presidency.

The President of South Sudan, Salva Kiir Mayardit has reaffirmed his commitment to expand HIV programmes in the country.  During a meeting with UNAIDS Deputy Executive Director, Programme, Luiz Loures in South Sudan’s capital Juba, President Kiir said, "We won the battle for the independence of South Sudan. We will also win the war against HIV.  I have made this my priority. I want to keep my people safe at all costs."

South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in 2011 following a 30-year civil war that claimed the lives of more than 2.5 million people. The country is now entering a challenging transition period––from war to peace and development.

For the past two years South Sudan, in collaboration with its development partners, has been working hard to build multi-sectorial institutions and infrastructure to provide basic public services, including education and health care.

“These efforts are a testament to the resilience of the South Sudanese people and a clear sign of their desire to achieve a viable independent state,” said Dr Loures commending the government for its commitment to creating a healthy and productive nation.

We won the battle for the independence of South Sudan. We will also win the war against HIV.  I have made this my priority. I want to keep my people safe at all costs.

Salva Kiir Mayardit, President of South Sudan

Efforts are in particular need of scaling up in the country’s response to HIV. In 2012, an estimated 150 000 people were living with HIV in South Sudan and just 9% people who were eligible for treatment under the World Health Organization’s 2010 guidelines had access to lifesaving antiretroviral therapy. Only 13% of pregnant women living with HIV had access to services to prevent transmission of the virus to their child and AIDS-related deaths have almost doubled since 2001––from 6 900––to 13 000 in 2012.

The population of South Sudan is largely made up of young people. According to the World Bank, 51% of the population in the country are under the age of 18 and 72% are under the age of 30. President Kiir acknowledged the need to tailor HIV services to the needs of young people, “If they are left vulnerable, there will be no country,” he said.

UNAIDS Deputy Executive Director, Programme Dr Luiz Loures with United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan peacekeepers at Bangladeshi Camp, UN Base Tomping on 30 September 2013. Credit: UNAIDS

Dr Loures emphasized the need to firmly engage the armed forces in the response to HIV. The South Sudanese army has been at the forefront of the national AIDS response having established an HIV Secretariat in 2006.

Dr Loures also addressed the United Nations peacekeeping mission troops deployed in South Sudan. He highlighted the responsibility that peacekeepers have in preventing gender-based violence and sexual exploitation in their operational zones––two key factors that exacerbate the spread of HIV in conflict and post-conflict settings, as outlined in the UN Security Council in Resolution 1983.

During his visit Dr Loures met with Ministers, representatives of the United Nations Secretary-General and development partners to take stock of the AIDS response in the world’s youngest nation. The discussions focused particularly on security, peacekeeping and HIV in a post-conflict zone.