Address by the Honourable Premier RM Mtshweni-Tsipane on the occasion of the provincial observation of World AIDS Day

01 December 2021

Programme Director;
Members of the Executive Council Present;
The Executive Mayor of Gert Sibande District Municipality, Cllr Walter Mngomezulu,
Our host, the Executive Mayor of Chief Albert Luthuli Local Municipality, Cllr Dan Nkosi;
Councillors in our midst;
The Chairperson of the Mpumalanga House of Traditional Leaders, Inkhosi SG Ngomane;
The newly elected Chairperson of the Civil Society Forum, Ms Sonto Nkosi;
Senior Government officials led by Director General, Mr. Makhukhu Mampuru;
Ladies and Gentlemen;
Good Morning,

  1. Programme Director, it is an honour and a privilege to join the beautiful people of Tjakastad as we join the rest of the world in observing world AIDS day.

  2. Since 1988, the global community has observed the first of December as a date to affirm our collective solidarity with people living with, and affected by HIV and AIDS.

  3. On this day, it is incumbent upon all of us to reflect on the loved ones who are no longer with us because of this silent killer.

  4. It is on this day that we, as a Provincial Government, through the Mpumalanga Provincial Aids Council (MPAC), join hands with our civil society stakeholders to reflect on the success of our initiatives to arrest the spread of HIV/AIDS. We also use this day to reflect on how we may augment our efforts to raise awareness about the pandemic that continues to wreak havoc across the nation.

  5. On this day, we all pay tribute to the various non-profit organisations and tireless activists who devote their lives to restoring the dignity of people living with HIV. On a day such as this, we honour the bravery of HIV activists such as the late Gugu Dlamini, Nkosi Johnson and the tireless Zackie Achmat.

  6. On this day, we must also remember the legacy of the father of our rainbow nation, uTata Nelson Mandela who strongly advocated against discrimination against people living with HIV and rallied behind the campaign for the provision of Anti-Retroviral treatment.

  7. On this day, we must pay tribute to the many health care workers, social workers and educators in hospitals, clinics, schools, orphanages and in our communities who have devoted their lives to advocate for the increasing awareness of the HIV transmission, prevention and treatment.

  8. Programme Director, we gather to observe World Aids Day as we navigate ourselves out of another pandemic. In different ways, we have all been exposed to the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is a pandemic that has brought about unprecedented disruptions to life as we knew it.

  9. The discovery of the omicron variant of Covid-19 has shown that the virus will be with us for the foreseeable future. As such, we must ensure that our systems and health infrastructure are ready for the inevitable 4th wave resurgence of infections that may threaten to reverse the gains we have achieved.

  10. We must continue to drive home the message that vaccination is the only way our people can reduce the risk of contracting severe covid-19 symptoms that result in hospitalisation, intubation and in unfortunate instances, death.

  11. Program Director, we must incorporate Covid-19 into our planning as government and I believe that the most suitable platform to inculcate behavioural change is through a multi-sectoral vehicle such as the Mpumalanga Provincial Aids Council which is constituted by government at all spheres, the institution of traditional leadership, civil society partners, leaders of faith based organisations and various non-governmental organisations.

  12. As government, we will use the MPAC platform to augment our messaging and encourage our people to vaccinate. Our Province is listed among those with the lowest number of vaccinated people, with just over a million people vaccinated.

  13. This calls for double efforts to intensify our work to ensure that we achieve a seventy percent target by the end of December this year, set by national government.

  14. Programme Director, the theme for this year’s commemoration is “Working together to end inequalities, AIDS, TB and Covid-19. Get tested, Get vaccinated and adhere to treatment”.

  15. It is worth-noting that this theme is cognisant of the fact that our planning must incorporate Covid-19, it also drives home the key elements of the Provincial 90/90/90 strategy.

  16. The 90/90/90 strategy was adopted by the South African National Aids Council and Provincial AIDS councils. In essence, the strategy seeks to ensure that 90% of all people living with HIV know their status, 90 % of people living with HIV receive sustained treatment and 90% of all people receiving treatment will have viral load suppression.

  17. Unfortunately the Province of Mpumalanga has recorded an increase in the number of people living with HIV knowing their status. As at the end of September 2021, 91 % of people living with HIV knew their status. Only 78 % of people with HIV were on sustained treatment whereas 87% of people receiving treatment recorded viral load suppression.

  18. This worrisome trajectory is further compounded by the reduction of condom distribution across the Province as well as an overall reduction in medical male circumcision in the Province.

  19. Yes, the Covid-19 pandemic has decimated the resources apportioned to our battle against HIV/AIDS, but these statistics must be addressed as a matter of urgency in order to suppress the rate of HIV infection in a Province where over 543 594 people or approximately 13,5% of the population are living with HIV.

  20. As I have indicated, the solution to arrest this worrying trajectory is through the optimal use of the MPAC forum as an advocate to drive behavioural change. Though MPAC we must augment our current partnerships with vital sectors of our society such as the institution of traditional leadership.

  21. Ithemba lethu silibeka emakhosini eMpumalanga ukusiza uHulumeni ukulwa nalesifo. As respected custodians of our culture, Amakhosi azosiza kakhulu ukufundisa isizwe ngendlela zokuzivikela kulesisifo.

  22. uBukhosi across the Province can aid us by continuing to encourage thina as their subjects to go for HIV testing and counselling. In advocating for the return to the core value of Ubuntu, uBukhosi will aid in driving the central message of moral regeneration.

  23. As the Provincial Government, we shall work under the guidance of uBukhosi to promote safe medical male circumcision during the initiation period across the Province. Working with uBukhosi, we will make sure that medical male circumcision does not undermine our cultures and traditions.

  24. We will do so, fully cognisant of the fact that circumcision does not prevent HIV, however it significantly decreases the risk of infection.

  25. Programme Director, empirical data from Statistics South Africa indicates that girls and young women between the ages of 15-24 constitute 30% of all new HIV infections due to economic dependency brought about by poverty.

  26. In order to arrest a spiral of these statistics, we shall embark on a Provincial-wide campaign, along with strategic stakeholders, to reach vulnerable girls across the Province. This campaign seeks to empower young women and build their capacity to make responsible decisions about their lives and careers.

  27. We call on our traditional leaders, religious leaders, civil society formations and the private sector to support this initiative and aid our efforts to afford these young women with opportunities to further their education and earn a living through sustainable job opportunities. Kumele sisebenze ngokubambisana ukuvikela izingane zethu kulengculaza.

  28. Programme Director, the impact of HIV and AIDS in our communities is compounded by the stigma associated with the virus.

  29. We know that stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV make it a challenge for people to test for HIV and for those infected to seek treatment.

  30. We know that the marginalisation, discrimination and persecution of vulnerable groups like sex workers and members of the LGBTQI community only create conditions for the spread, not the prevention of HIV.

  31. We must ensure that our healthcare facilities are the first point of comfort for people living with HIV. I urge all healthcare workers in our clinics to stop stigmatising and shaming people living with HIV when they seek medical care. Your conduct is what sets us back in our quest to defeat this pandemic.

  32. I urge all people who have been mistreated in any way, to use complaints mechanism such as the satise silalele mobile app or report it directly to my office, so that proper action can be taken.

  33. Programme Director, the health and growth of our Province depends on the wellbeing and capabilities of our people.

  34. It is our joint responsibility to mould a society where women are economically free and culturally empowered to refuse to have sex with men without a condom.

  35. It is our responsibility to build a Province where culture and religion do not associate the use of condoms with immoral and sinful behaviour.

  36. It is our responsibility to build a society in which the LGBTI community is free from stigmatisation.

  37. It is our responsibility to ensure that our society is filled with people who exude empathy, compassion and understanding – not indifference, prejudice and ignorance.

  38. It is our responsibility to end patriarchy, sexism, poverty, unemployment and inequality, all of which increase the vulnerability of women to contracting HIV and AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections.

  39. To develop the Mpumalanga we envision, we need people who are healthy and living productive lives.

  40. The epidemics of HIV, TB, Covid-19 and non-communicable disease drain the economy of its most talented people in their most productive years.

  41. As the Provincial government, through MPAC, we call on our strategic partners, like PEPFAR, to continue to support our prevention and treatment programmes to attain our goal of zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination, and zero AIDS-related deaths.

  42. I thank you.
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