World Aids Day

We know we're a few days late, but thought we'd post something anyway.

Part of the difficulty in posting on this is that here in South Africa things are far from straightforward. Firstly, we have a government which is in denial with the nations approach to HIV/AIDS treatment, & awareness raising being overseen by a health minister who is at best laughable and at worst downright objectionable! She is know as Dr. Beetroot or as the Minister of Garlic as she favours just about any treatment except ARV's. Recently, she was interviewed at the launch of a new 'traditional' medicine in a rural area, but the medicine hadn't even been licensed by the relevant authorities. This is all very frustrating and leaves one feeling very marginalised when trying to get ARV's and counseling for those who need it.

South Africa has about 6 million HIV+ people and suffers from 1000 new infections each day and 900 AIDS related deaths per day. The rollout of ARV's around the country has been pathetically slow and the current plan between government and civil society players is to get 600,000 people onto ARV's by 2011. This is truly pathetic!

Not long after we arrived in Somerset West, the government pulled out of funding the Helderberg Aids Centre (HAC) thereby forcing it to close down. A local Christian counseling centre then took over the counseling side of things with government then throwing down a 'challenge' to them and other counseling facilities to begin voluntary counseling and testing (to become VCT's) but with no promise of help from the government.

Our experience of the system here is one of utter frustration as we've tried on numerous occasions to get folk from Chris Nissen onto ARV's which could have saved many lives in the community. However, the referral process is complex and we're often obstructed by incompetent or simply uncaring medical professionals who do little if anything to encourage people to get tested and treated.

To be seen by a Dr. at Ikhwezi clinic involves being in the queue by 5am ready for the clinic to open at 8am. If you arrive later you won't be seen as the queues are huge! Once in, the medical staff are not very friendly or welcoming and most patients complain bitterly about the Dr's attitude towards them. There is nothing empowering in the experience. Until recently, patients going to the clinic for HIV testing were subjected to entering either a red door or a green one depending on their HIV status (you work out which was which). Thankfully this is no longer the case, but there is still a huge stigma attached to getting tested as everyone in the clinic knows why you're there as the various 'departments' within the clinic have their own waiting areas. For example, when i recently went to get tested for TB, I had to sit in the TB waiting are so everyone knew why I was there!

I could go on, but this is a really depressing reality of life in the 'New South Africa'. As one former anti-apartheid activist said recently; "Under apartheid we used to kill people, now we leave them to die"

So here are some more facts and figures for South Africa:
The national infection rate is 11% (but probably much higher)
Amongst 15 to 24 year olds the infection rate is 20% (but again, it is probably much higher)
The HIV prevalence rate amongst men over 50 is disproportionately high
The average life expectancy in South Africa is 35
The HIV prevalence rate amongst the informal settlements is 25.8%
190,000 South African's are on ARV's
South African's receive 25% of all ARV's in sub-Saharan Africa (a pathetic picture!)

So that's why we didn't post, it's just too depressing and we live with the reality of this on a daily basis in Chris Nissen.


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