President Jacob Zuma last week delivered a historic speech on HIV/Aids that has been described as representing “the final death of state sponsored AIDS denialism”.

Zuma spoke to the National Council of Provinces on Thursday and acknowledged that South Africa was not winning the war against the disease and that extraordinary measures were needed.

Zuma said that “if we do not respond with urgency and resolve, we may well find our vision of a thriving nation slipping from our grasp”.

He went on to say that recent statistics paint a disturbing picture of the health of the nation.

“They show that nearly six out 10 deaths in our country in 2006 were deaths of people younger than 50 years. If we consider mortality trends over the last decade, we see that the age at which people die has been changing dramatically.

“The number of deaths registered in 2008 jumped to 756,000, up from 573,000 the year before. At this rate, there is a real danger that the number of deaths will soon overtake the number of births.”

Zuma noted that life expectancy at birth for South African men is estimated to be 51 years compared to 70 years in Algeria and 60 years in Senegal.

“These are some of the chilling statistics that demonstrate the devastating impact that HIV and AIDS is having on our nation,” he said.

The president also admitted that “…though we have the largest anti-retroviral programme in the world, we are not yet winning this battle. We must come to terms with this reality as South Africans.”

Zuma said that “extraordinary measures” were required and that all South Africans need to know their HIV status and be informed of the treatment options available to them.

“There should be no shame, no discrimination, no recriminations. We must break the stigma surrounding AIDS.”

He further marked World Aids Day, on the 1st of December, as the day on which “additional measures that need to be taken to enhance our efforts” will be outlined.

In an indirect comment about the previous Mbeki administration’s discredited HIV/AIDS policy, Zuma noted that “the important factor is that our people must be armed with information. Knowledge will help us to confront denialism and the stigma attached to the epidemic.”

“…we must begin by acknowledging the true nature of that with which we are confronted. We should not be disheartened by what we find. Rather, we should be encouraged to act with greater energy and motivation to overcome.”

According to Zuma, the Minister of Health has been instructed to “provide further detail to the nation on the impact of HIV and AIDS on our people.”

He also said that the South African National AIDS Council, under the leadership of Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, will develop a set of measures that strengthen programmes already in place.

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