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Cablegate: Zuma Puts Aids Denialism to Rest

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TAGS: PGOV KDEM SF
SUBJECT: ZUMA PUTS AIDS DENIALISM TO REST

1. (U) Summary: On October 29, President Jacob Zuma delivered his
annual address to the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) under the
theme "Together finding solutions to achieving the goal of a better
quality of life for all." Zuma highlighted two critical challenges,
which have the potential to undermine the country's efforts to
achieve a better life for the South African people: the global
economic crisis and health care. He said the impact of the economic
crisis has been felt by all sectors of society and that government
is compelled to do more with less. Zuma also acknowledged that South
Africa was not winning the war against HIV/AIDS and that
extraordinary measures were needed to combat the disease. By 2011
the government wants a 50 percent drop in the rate of new infections
and the extension of the antiretroviral program to 80 percent of
those who need it. Zuma's speech is seen as a welcome change from
former President Thabo Mbeki's AIDS denialism. End summary.

2. (U) On October 29, President Jacob Zuma delivered his annual
address to the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) under the theme
"Together finding solutions to achieving the goal of a better
quality of life for all." During his discussion of the global
economic crisis, Zuma said that Finance Minister Gordhan's recent
Medium Term Budget Statement presented a government spending program
that places the interest of ordinary South Africans at the center of
the government's work and that government must do more with less
resources. During his address which also focused on health care and
more specifically the fight against HIV/AIDS, Zuma acknowledged that
South Africa was not winning the war against HIV/AIDS and that
extraordinary measures were needed to combat the disease. Zuma
indicated that he wanted to use this year's World AIDS Day to mark
the beginning of a massive mobilization campaign by government
against HIV/AIDS. The President said the campaign should reach all
South Africans and must spur them into action to safeguard their
health and the health of the nation. He said the South African
National AIDS Council, headed by Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe,
was expected to develop a set of measures that strengthen the
programs already in place, but did not elaborate on how the
government will accomplish this enormous task or how they will pay
for it. By 2011 the government wants a 50 percent drop in the rate
of new infections and the extension of the antiretroviral program to
80 percent of those who need it. He also called for an end to the
huge stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS. Note: South Africa is regarded
as among the countries with the highest number of HIV infections.
Some studies suggest that 57 percent of the deaths of children under
the age of five during 2007 were a result of HIV. The disease is
estimated to kill 1,000 people every day and at least 5.7 million of
South Africa's 50 million population are infected. End note.

3. (U) Commentators here have described Zuma's speech as a welcome
change from the stance adopted by his predecessor Thabo Mbeki. Mbeki
drew fierce criticism after coming to power in 1999 when he
questioned accepted AIDS science and failed to make life-prolonging
antiretroviral drugs widely available. Both political parties and
AIDS activists alike have welcomed the Zuma government's new AIDS
stance. The Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) said Zuma's speech has
put an end to AIDS denialism. The TAC welcomed what they referred to
as "the ushering in of this new era, almost exactly ten years since
former President Mbeki made a speech that began the era of
Qformer President Mbeki made a speech that began the era of
state-supported denialism." UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidib
congratulated Zuma on his bold leadership. He said, "President Zuma
has shown extraordinary vision in prioritizing AIDS as an issue of
national importance. His call to end denialism and embark on a
national mobilization campaign will save thousands of lives." Mike
Waters, the Democratic Alliance's (DA) Shadow Minister for Health
said Zuma's speech made a welcome change from a decade of
AIDS-denialism that has come to be associated with ANC rule. He said
the DA was anxious to be part of the solution in the fight against
AIDS and would do its part to monitor the progress of Zuma's
commitment. The Independent Democrats John Gunda expressed the hope
that Zuma would follow through on his commitment to fight HIV/AIDS.

4. (U) Comment. It is interesting to note that Zuma chose to stress
the seriousness of the HIV/AIDS crisis in the same chamber (the
NCOP) where Mbeki first articulated his view that HIV did not cause
AIDS almost 10 years ago. By doing so the government clearly wants
to dispel any lingering doubt that it has reversed the policy of the
former Mbeki administration and is now fully committed to the fight
against HIV/AIDS. End comment.

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