The third South African AIDS conference came to a close in Durban on Friday with what conference chair, Dr Olive Shisana, described as an unparalleled display of unity.

“We have crossed the Rubicon with regard to HIV,” said Mark Heywood, South African National AIDS Council’s recently elected deputy chair. “This conference has shown that thousands of delegates are working from the same page.”

Conference delegates adopted a declaration on the steps most urgently needed to fight the country’s HIV/AIDS epidemic. The document included commitments to align the national policy on HIV testing and counselling with the latest WHO guidelines; to promote safer infant feeding practices for HIV-infected mothers; and to make male circumcision available and accessible to every man who wants it.

Heywood, who received the declaration on behalf of SANAC, promised delegates it would inform implementation of the county’s recently adopted National Strategic Plan (NSP) for HIV and AIDS, which he described as “an opportunity to bring social repair to our communities.”

A significant portion of the NSP’s R45 billion (US$6.1 billion) budget, would hopefully be used to address the socioeconomic impact of the epidemic, including the introduction of a chronic disease grant, Heywood noted.

The recurring theme of this year’s conference was the need to take the NSP down to the district and community levels, he added.

Summarising the findings of the conference’s community track, a new addition to this year’s conference, Sipho Mthathi, of AIDS lobby group, the Treatment Action Campaign also urged delegates to start thinking about the community role in the HIV/AIDS fight, not as secondary, but as central to the NSP’s successful implementation.

“We need to make sure that community AIDS councils are set up and translate what we’ve discussed here into simple plans that are owned and driven by our communities,” Heywood told delegates.

“The ball is in our courts now,” he concluded.



[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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