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Cablegate: South Africa Strongly Supports World Aids Day

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RR RUEHBZ RUEHDU RUEHJO RUEHMR RUEHRN
DE RUEHSA #2640/01 3391558
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 041558Z DEC 08
FM AMEMBASSY PRETORIA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 6635
INFO RUCNSAD/SOUTHERN AF DEVELOPMENT COMMUNITY COLLECTIVE
RUEHOR/AMEMBASSY GABORONE 5402
RUEHMR/AMEMBASSY MASERU 2789
RUEHMB/AMEMBASSY MBABANE 4488
RUEHWD/AMEMBASSY WINDHOEK 4959
RUEHTN/AMCONSUL CAPE TOWN 6340
RUEHDU/AMCONSUL DURBAN 0473
RUEHJO/AMCONSUL JOHANNESBURG 8689
RUEHPH/CDC ATLANTA GA 2415

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 PRETORIA 002640

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ECON
SUBJECT: SOUTH AFRICA STRONGLY SUPPORTS WORLD AIDS DAY

PRETORIA 00002640 001.2 OF 002


1. (SBU) Summary: The South African Government (SAG)
strongly supported World AIDS Day 2008, in contrast to its
lackluster support in previous years. South Africa's Deputy
President and Chair of the South African National AIDS
Council (SANAC) and SANAC Deputy Chair requested all South
Africans to participate in a 15-minute work and school
stoppage to focus on the prevention and treatment of HIV and
AIDS. At a televised event that took place on World AIDS Day
on December 1 at the Sahara Stadium in Durban, the Deputy
President renewed the SAG's commitment to preventing the
spread of HIV and AIDS among all groups of people, and
announced a campaign to prevent mother-to-child transmission.
The Minister of Health also addressed the nation, urging
government, business, unions, and individuals to take a
united stand to fight the spread of HIV and AIDS, and
stressing optimism in the face of obstacles. The Minister of
Health and the Deputy President encouraged South Africans to
reflect on their personal responsibility to combat the
disease and to care for the people who are affected by the
disease. End Summary.

--------------------------
CONFRONTING THE STATISTICS
--------------------------

2. (SBU) South Africa has the largest number of
HIV-infected individuals in the world, with 5.7 million
people living with HIV. The national HIV prevalence rate
among adults (ages 15-49) is 18.1 percent. There were also
an estimated 1.4 million AIDS orphans at the end of 2007.
Former President Thabo Mbeki denied that HIV caused AIDS, and
his controversial former Health Minister Dr. Mantobazana
Tshabalala-Msimang was dubbed "Dr. Beetroot" for proposing
that lemon juice, garlic, olive oil and beets be used to
treat HIV. A new study by Harvard University estimates that
the SAG could have prevented the premature deaths of 365,000
people between 2000 and 2005 if it had provided
antiretroviral (ARV) drugs to AIDS patients and HIV-positive
pregnant women instead of denying the relationship between
HIV and AIDS.

---------------------------
UNITY IN FIGHT AGAINST AIDS
---------------------------

3. (SBU) The centerpiece of World AIDS Day in South Africa
was a national event at the Sahara Stadium in Durban. Deputy
President Baleka Mbete lit a unity candle at noon on December
1. She and SANAC Deputy Chair Mark Heywood requested the
nation to observe a minute of silence and then a 15-minute
work stoppage to focus on the prevention and treatment of HIV
and AIDS. The Deputy President and Minister of Health
Barbara Hogan addressed the nation. The Deputy President and
the Minister of Health were joined on the dais by the
Executive Director of UNAIDS, Peter Piot, and a person living
with AIDS. Members of government, civil society, the
business community, and labor unions were also gathered at
the stadium to demonstrate a united commitment to the fight
against HIV and AIDS. Several radio and television stations
around the country covered the event and other World AIDS Day
activities.

------------------------------
THE SAG "WILL SPARE NO EFFORT"
------------------------------

4. (U) The Deputy President renewed the SAG's commitment to
prevent the transmission of HIV and AIDS. She stated that
the SAG's goal is to reduce new HIV infections by 50 percent
Qthe SAG's goal is to reduce new HIV infections by 50 percent
by 2011. "Government will spare no effort" in the struggle,
she proclaimed. Mbete announced that HIV-positive mothers
and mothers-to-be should enroll in the SAG's new Prevention
of Mother-to-Child Transmission (PMTCT) Campaign program to
receive ARVs. She highlighted the plight of children
orphaned by AIDS and emphasized the community's role in
taking care of AIDS orphans and households headed by
children. She exhorted HIV-positive parents to test their
children at a young age, and encouraged people to protect and
nurture children who live in homes with HIV-positive family
members. The children must be allowed to finish school,
Mbete remarked, because the future depends upon them. Mbete
also reminded women that they have a right to ask their
partners for HIV tests to protect themselves and to decide
when to have children.

PRETORIA 00002640 002.2 OF 002

5. (SBU) Mbete listed some of the strides South Africa has
made in its effort to stem the spread of HIV and AIDS. She
noted that South Africa has the largest ARV treatment program
in the world, distributes free male and female condoms
throughout the country, and has many community and home care
programs available to the general public. The only way to
beat the epidemic, she said, is to take personal
responsibility and to commit to "ubuntu" or national unity in
the fight against HIV and AIDS.

---------------------------------------------
SOUTH AFRICANS MUST LEAD RESPONSE TO EPIDEMIC
---------------------------------------------

6. (SBU) The Minister of Health stressed the gravity and
mixed emotions of observing World AIDS Day, noting that she
and members of the crowd gathered with a sense of "purpose,
sorrow, and optimism." She warned against being discouraged
by the magnitude of the challenges presented by infection,
illness, and death and stressed long-term commitment and
individual leadership in the fight against HIV and AIDS.
Hogan announced that the SAG needs the help of every person
in South Africa to rebuild the health system and underscored
her request for individual responsibility and participation
by asking the men in the audience to stand up to show their
commitment to getting tested for HIV.


7. (SBU) Hogan also relayed a story about an 8-year-old
Eastern Cape child who overcame tuberculosis only to be
felled by AIDS, and lamented that at the time of his death he
was on a waiting list for ARVs. She pledged that the SAG
will expand PMTCT programs and prevention for all groups,
including marginalized groups like homosexual men and sex
workers. Her comments on expansion of prevention programs
for marginalized groups drew applause from the audience in
the stadium.

-------------------------------------
THE SAG IS SERIOUS ABOUT HIV AND AIDS
-------------------------------------

8. (U) Comment: President Kgalema Motlanthe replaced the
controversial Health Minister Dr. Mantobazana
Tshabalala-Msimang ("Dr. Beetroot") with Barbara Hogan on the
first day of his presidency. At the time, many wondered if
the SAG was finally ready to acknowledge the realities of
South Africa's health crisis and the depth of the toll HIV
and AIDS had taken on the country. The first-of-its-kind
work stoppage during the World AIDS Day observance and the
high-level encouragement to discuss personal responsibility
and involvement in combating HIV and AIDS reflects the new
government's seriousness in battling HIV and AIDS. The USG
invests a great deal of resources in fighting AIDS in South
Africa through the PEPFAR program, but has not always had
full SAG support for the program. The SAG's renewed
commitment should contribute to a fuller, more productive
working relationship in the effort to prevent the spread of
HIV and AIDS and care for and treat those living with the
diseases.


BOST

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