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SA: Mlambo-Ngcuka: Department of Defence HIV and AIDS conference (12/11/2007)

12th November 2007

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Date: 12/11/2007
Source: the Presidency
Title: SA: Mlambo-Ngcuka: Department of Defence HIV and AIDS conference

Address by Honourable Ms Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Deputy President of the Republic of South Africa, at the opening of the first Department of Defence HIV and AIDS conference, St George Hotel, Tshwane

Theme: "The Impact of HIV and AIDS on Combat Readiness"

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Deputy Minister of Defence, Mr George
Surgeon-General Ramlakan
Chief of the South African National Defence Force
Southern African Development Community representatives
Officers and non-commissioned officers
Distinguished guests
Ladies and gentlemen

This first HIV and AIDS conference hosted by the South African Department of Defence is an historic event, with which I am happy to be associated. It brings together local and international expertise, care-givers and officials at an important time in South Africa.

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This gathering underscores the fact that the fight against HIV and AIDS, on our continent, must have an integrated, holistic and unified approach. The Defence Force plays a crucial role in society. Our uniformed personnel are there to fulfil many tasks such as being 'combat ready' to guarantee the security and territorial integrity of our countries. At all times, they need to be a healthy fighting force so that they can discharge their duties in peace-keeping missions on the continent and manage conflicts and crises wherever they may arise.

We know that the majority of people in the world living with and affected by HIV and AIDS are in sub-Saharan Africa. As Africans, we cannot afford to be defeated by HIV and AIDS. As Africans, together, we fought hard against colonialism, against apartheid including many other enemies that threatened the continent. In many instances we were victorious. It is, therefore, important, that we adopt the same attitude in this case.

In South Africa many of our uniformed personnel are also impacted upon by this epidemic. One of the targets of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is to halt and reverse the incidences of HIV, tuberculosis and malaria. In this case, we should also take this victorious posture.

To achieve this goal, we need to reinforce our prevention, treatment and care measures. I am very happy, Surgeon-General, for the theme and tone of this conference which is about an "AIDS Free Defence force". If we were to achieve this within the forces, the battle psychologically and otherwise will be won in the broader society. I, therefore, would like to pledge my support in this battle to achieve these noble plans.

We need to reinforce on prevention, because the most important intervention that we have at our disposal to make sure that we work towards an HIV and AIDS free Defence Force in the continent is to prevent the spread in the first place.

Of course, we do need to be concerned about looking after people who are infected the through provision of adequate treatment; we need to make sure that, there are enough care measures in place. We also need to invest both the intellect and resources on research and development. We need to focus on human rights and fight against stigma and discrimination. Lastly, we need to place adequate focus on human resource development. In the National Strategic Plan (NSP) for HIV and AIDS and Sexual Transmitted Infections (STIs) for 2007 to 2011 in South Africa these are some of the challenges identified as critical for the plan to succeed.

Those in the Defence Force tend to be even more vulnerable to infection as it could be related to the fact that part of the recruitment drive is aimed at the most sexually active age group which is 18 to 25. There is, therefore, a need for the Department of Defence, to be concerned about this age group, because people in this age group undergo various social pressures including peer pressure. These soldiers are then deployed in distant places therefore disconnected from their families and loved ones. Some soldiers on deployment are more likely to have irresponsible behaviour that may have negative effects on their lives.

South Africa has taken the fight against HIV and AIDS to the fore in all of its programmes. Earlier this year we restructured the South African National AIDS Council (Sanac). The second giant step was the adoption of the National Strategic Plan (NSP) for HIV and AIDS and Sexual Transmitted Infections (STIs) for 2007 to 2011.

The South African National AIDS Council is a national partnership, which includes churches, health workers, non-government organisations, church-based organisation, business, traditional healers and government. We have all come together to fight the scourge of HIV and AIDS. In Sanac, we emphasise action, as embodied in our National Strategic Plan (NSP).

In our National Strategic Plan, we emphasise the need to address a number of factors on the fight against HIV and AIDS:

* gender violence
* economic well-being
* education of girls and women
* fast-tracking and easy access to antiretrovirals (ARVs) for pregnant women
* prevention of mother-to-child transmission with added focus on caring for mothers
* using scientific evidence, such as this conference, to map out and revise strategies.

In addition, the 2007 to 2011 NSP seeks to provide continued guidance to all government departments, including the military, as well as civil society; reduce the rates of new infections by 50 percent by 2011, and, in particular to target young people for preventive interventions based on behavioural changes.

To deal with this challenge adequately and effectively, we need to know more about HIV and identify risk factors among military populations and to do this successfully, we need to access more data. More importantly, it calls upon us to enhance military-to-military co-operation and sustained regional civil-military partnerships.

I am greatly encouraged that the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) has embarked on preventive programmes such as Masibambisane, the Chaplins Service, a value-based ethical programme, plus their Combating Aids through Spiritual and Ethical Conduct (CHATSEC). However, more needs to be done to arrest this worldwide challenge.

Our commitment as the South Africa government is to 'create a better life for all' our people. For this reason, we decided to allocate R2,1 billion to step up the HIV and AIDS programme including R400 million for prevention of multi-drug resistant tuberculosis.

We all need to continue advising young recruits to abstain from risky behaviour. The "know your status" campaign must be intensified in the promotion of an ethos of a healthy life style. HIV and AIDS prevention programmes must be incorporated into general training.

Always the message in our campaigns should call upon everyone to take personal responsibility for both one's own health and that of others so that gradually there is a positive mindset shift. That is why I continuously say:

* If you are HIV negative stay negative.
* If you are already living with the virus, do not infect others.
* Again, if you are HIV positive do not re-infect yourself by having unprotected sex.
* It is a personal responsibility that needs no other resources except personal responsibility.

Uniformed personnel and their families have access to the some of the best health care facilities in the world at their military hospitals, clinics and sickbays. This includes creating environments where there is no stigma and discrimination attached for those afflicted with this disease.

The South African government underlines the United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS) position that HIV-positive individuals in the military should be given every opportunity to do the tasks for which they have been trained and which they are still fit to perform. Armed forces should be prepared to provide care and support for personnel and family members living with HIV and AIDS, including continuity of care as they return to civilian life.

I call on the South African National Defence Force to inculcate ethical and moral values within your training programmes. This will, therefore, become an integral part of your well being to ensure that morality is at the heart of the well-being of each and every soldier, and the institution of the SANDF.

I call upon you to honour your uniforms and to serve your countries and the continent with pride and loyalty. All of us together have the power to defeat this disease. It all begins with you!

I thank you.

Issued by: The Presidency
12 November 2007

 


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