President Jacob Zuma will publicly take an HIV test on World Aids Day, as part of a major new campaign by government.
President Jacob Zuma will publicly take an HIV test on World Aids Day, as part of a major new campaign by the government to demonstrate its commitment to the fight against the disease.
Two presidency sources confirmed that Zuma will take the test to signal the shift from the ambiguous messages about HIV/Aids under Thabo Mbeki’s administration.
The results will, however, not be made known.
Zuma will also be the face of a nationwide campaign that will encourage citizens to undergo HIV tests, with polling stations used for the 2009 general elections being transformed into testing sites. The campaign is due to kick off in March next year.
This is a significant departure from government’s past position on HIV/Aids, where political leaders were not involved in awareness campaigns.
In 2001 Mbeki said in a television interview that he would not take an HIV test because “I don’t believe that stunts—publicity stunts—help in addressing the health needs of our people”.
Zuma will compel his Cabinet to be tested publicly as part of the awareness campaign.
“The president sees HIV not as just a health issue, but as a socioeconomic issue that will be with us for a long time,” a government official told the Mail & Guardian. “The mixed messages of the past harmed us; we’re trying to reverse the lost years.”
The driving force behind the Aids campaign is Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi, who had a hand in Zuma’s recent speech to the National Council of Provinces.
Highlighting the devastating effects of HIV/Aids, he said: “[Statistics show] that nearly six out of 10 deaths in our country in 2006 were deaths of people younger than 50 years. More and more people are dying young, threatening even to outnumber in proportional terms those who die in old age.
“The number of deaths registered in 2008 jumped to 756 000, up from 573 000 the year before. At this rate there is a real danger the number of deaths will soon overtake the number of births. The births registered during this period were 1 205 111.”
The Independent Electoral Commission had to remove 396 336 deceased voters from the voters’ roll in September last year and August this year.
Motsoaledi told reporters in Cape Town this week that, according to the latest statistics, the average life expectancy in South Africa has fallen to about 47 years, only marginally better than that in war-torn Afghanistan, where life expectancy is 44 years.
In his speech Zuma pointed out that the figure was 70 years in Algeria and 60 years in Senegal.