Address to Health Forum SA-Sweden Commission, 9 October 2003

Madame Deputy Prime Minister,
Distinguished participants,

I am pleased that we have the opportunity to share ideas about how we can best address the global spread of HIV, AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria.

This situation has created a worldwide crisis that required an urgent global response. It also resulted in a new, global public-private partnership that has led to strengthened cooperation, increased coordination, and greater investments aimed at these three diseases, with an overall goal of improving health outcomes.

The statistics make us all see the need for intensified action. In the year 2002, around the world:

3.1 million people died of AIDS; and Tuberculosis accounted for 2 million deaths.
We have come a long way since the G8 summit in July 2000 where leaders in Okinawa endorsed the International Development targets for HIV, AIDS and Tuberculosis. The unprecedented momentum and consensus to reduce the impact of HIV, AIDS and Tuberculosis must not be lost.

The epidemics pose one of the greatest challenges to Africa. The challenge lies in powerful and continuous action to prevent new infections and to provide care and support for the many who are infected or affected.

It is a known fact that the epidemic tends to affect every community.

It is also tearing hardest at society's margins, claiming lives, destroying families and testing community compassion. HIV and AIDS are also forcing communities to focus on much more complex societal and moral issues such as violence, sexual abuse, death, children orphaned by AIDS and others. We all know that Africa is severely impacted by HIV, AIDS, TB, Malaria and many other infectious diseases.

We also know that poverty, underdevelopment, instability, war and natural disaster have raged the continent for a long time.

Such conditions put more pressure on Africans to do more to put the continent on the path to stability and development, free of diseases and poverty.

As I said earlier, the challenges seem enormous and the truth is that they are. However, what is exciting about all this is the fact that we have the ability to respond successfully.

In the South African Government, we have gone far in putting key programmes in place to respond to HIV, AIDS, STIs and TB. Government, together with NGOs and CBOs developed the 5-year HIV and AIDS and STI Strategic Plan for South Africa. The Plan is a broad framework document designed to guide our country's response to the challenges of HIV and AIDS.

It highlights four key priority areas for South Africa:

Treatment, care and support for those who are infected and affected.
Research, monitoring and surveillance in order to understand the evolution of the epidemic.
Human rights and legal issues.

Crucial to an effective country response was the allocation of more resources for key interventions. Over the last four years, more resources have been allocated to programmes, which are, key to policy formulation and to the development of policy guidelines within government. Financial support for other key role players such as NGOs and CBOs has been increased through a number of departments and other international donor agencies. The Department of Health alone provides R 45 million for NGO and CBO Funding.

The Departments of Agriculture, Social Development and Health have taken poverty alleviation to heart, and have in the last year escalated efforts to address it. One such initiative is our Integrated Food Security and Nutrition Programme that made R400 million available to provide relief to needy families, irrespective of HIV status.

However, there is also a need to address poverty and nutrition for those people with HIV, as there is an opportunity to slow their progress to AIDS and increase the number of years that they remain healthy and productive. Boosting the immune system has a drastic impact on quality of life, and ensures that drugs taken to address specific infections has optimal efficacy.

Addressing poverty and nutrition can happen at a multitude of levels - and one of those is through the provision of nutritional supplements and food parcels.

Preventing further infections is another critical area of response. The provision of free condoms including the provision of information and education through formal and informal channels are also some of the key strategies fully funded by the Government. Research in the area of vaccine development is ongoing through financial support from government and other private institutions.

However, whereas the national government is responsible for broad policy and guidance, we also depend on organisations at local level for implementation.

It is only through mobilising the resources of local government, business, faith-based organisations, traditional leaders and other stakeholders towards the specific needs of a community that success can be ensured.

We have a strong Partnership Against Aids, through the South African National Aids Council, which co-ordinates the work of the various sectors.

The national government can set the policy framework, but can never know the skills and resources available in individual communities. This is particularly important as our country finalises its comprehensive treatment and care plan for people with HIV and AIDS. This is also important in the social and economic context where such interventions will have to be undertaken.

Our struggle with the TB epidemic clearly outlines the necessity to engage communities and sectors much more vigorously in sharing the responsibility to turn the tide against HIV and AIDS.

On the research front, the South African National Aids Vaccine Initiative is now embarking on the first phase of clinical trials and we are strengthening our Indigenous Knowledge Systems through our medical research council.

Moving to the co-operative relationship established and nurtured between South Africa and Sweden, I would like to allude briefly to the status of our bilateral health co-operation.

This afternoon's seminar is arranged as part of the South African-Swedish Binational Commission and the recently established Health Forum between the public health authorities of our two countries.

In the Health Forum's first meeting in Pretoria it was decided to expand co-operation on five themes:

HIV and Aids, TB and other communicable diseases,
Reproductive health and rights,
Health sector reform,
Health promotion and health impact assessment
Injury prevention.
We are today concentrating on three more specific areas and I therefore want to urge each representative gathered here at the Forum to ensure that the following three cornerstones are added and adhered to:

Ensure that there is a geographical balance. We should invest in those areas already affected by HIV, AIDS, TB and Malaria and invest in areas which have high vulnerability.
There should be a balance across the diseases with which we are mandated. No doubt HIV and AIDS will continue to take the lion's share, and rightly so. But we will also invest in others, such as Tuberculosis and Malaria.

A balance in the interventions is crucial for all three diseases. We should look at securing more funding for prevention, treatment; care and support, ongoing research, monitoring and evaluation. We also need to look at ways and means to ensure that hn rights and legal issues are addressed throughout the programmes.
With that in mind, it gives me great pleasure to declare this seminar open, and may your deliberations be added to those positive outcomes already registered under the rubric of the BNC and the BNC Health Forum.

I wish all the representatives the wisdom, foresight, commitment and perseverance to succeed in the formidable task ahead of you.

I thank you.

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2003 Department of Foreign Affairs, Republic of South Africa