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Media Centre  |  COSATU Speeches

National HIV/Aids Consultive Conference addressed by the General Secretary of COSATU Zwelinzima Vavi

14 March 2007

Zwelinzima Vavi - COSATU General Secretary speaking on behalf of Civil Society to the National HIV/AIDS Consultative Conference

Honourable Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka
Acting Minister of Health Jeff Radebe
Deputy Minister of Health Nozizwe Madlala Routridge

I am extremely honoured to speak on behalf of the civil society in this historic national HIV and AIDS Consultative Conference on the strategic plan.

This plan marks a turning point in our new struggle - the struggle to stop the AIDS pandemic, bringing a better life to millions of our people. Last year we closed the year by celebrating the World Aids Day under a new environment.

We shunned denialism and chest-beating claims and embraced a new completely spirit. We saw coming to the fore a true partnership and unity between the government, civil society and business. We hailed then the new spirit that signals an end to acrimonious debates and to the stand off between the government and the important segments of the people.

Today sees the historic coming together of the country to take forward that partnership. We are opening a new page in the struggle against the epidemic.

As the civil society we are here to engage with the plan to support it and to improve on areas that we believe could be strengthened. Above all we are committed to form a partnership with the government and business to ensure we effectively play our part in the process of implementation of the strategic plan.

AIDS is an epidemic that has devastated many lives in our country. It affects women and working class communities more than it does to other segments of our population. Unemployment and AIDS combine to form an albatross hanging on the neck of our youth in particular from working class communities.

Today we are taking a giant step to ease that pain and to bring hope to millions of our people. We regret that already millions of families had to go through the agony of burying loved ones, in most cases feeling helpless without access to medicines that prolong the life and with unaffordable medicines. We wont be able to return from the graves the thousands whose lives was wasted nor will we reverse the pain their families went through, but this page we are opening will move us away from rhetoric to concrete plans and targets. Once consensus has been reached, we can move from debates to implementation.

Very soon we shall be able to look our people in the eye and say our government working with the civil society and business has taken the strongest steps to date to respond to your cries and make interventions that would save millions of lives.

This plan is a new beginning to improve the quality of our public health service; challenging gender violence and discrimination; improving quality of medical care and counseling.

In this respect, we welcome the leadership shown by the Deputy President, Acting Health Minister and Deputy Health Minister. We are sorry that the Minister is still ill and unable to be here today. We send our messages of solidarity to her and her family and wish her a speedy recovery. We pray that she recovers soon to join us into this new spirit and partnership for we need every soldier committed to improve the health of our people.

The plan that has been presented before us arises from six long months of consultation, debate and work. It is bold and far-reaching. If supported by all, in particular the cabinet and business, we will have the boldest, the most comprehensive and the most advanced strategic plan on AIDS in the world. This conference should concentrate its energies mostly on how to kick-start its implementation.

The plan contains messages that must be heard and acted on by every single person living in South Africa. These include:

  • The call for you to know your own HIV status and test for HIV;
  • To have respect for your own health, dignity and life and to seek care and treatment from health services if you are sick. As COSATU, we make a promise that health workers who are our members will provide solidarity and respect for anyone infected or affected by HIV who seeks care.
  • To act responsibly in your sexual life. Do not endanger yourself or others and, above all, work in your community to deal with HIV and AIDS, to show solidarity, and to help end violence against women, girls and children.

This plan is a radical challenge to all of us. As civil society, we support it and plan to add to its proposals.

We support the call for a chronic diseases grant to assist all people who have to take medicine for long periods, for whatever reason, to be able to supplement the medicine with nutritious food and to be able to afford to travel to and from health care facilities.

As civil society, we support the plans proposal that the army of informal health care workers who provide such a vital role in assisting with home-based care, HIV counseling, etc., are drawn into the formal health service, into permanent jobs with conditions of employment that are in keeping with our labour laws. We also support the need to lift the morale of all those who staff the health service by giving them a vision and conditions of dignity.

One of the greatest challenges posed by this plan is how to fund it. It is clear that the cost of the plan and the amount allocated by the Treasury so far creates a huge funding gap. However, this is not a reason to blink. Business must now come to the party. A fund similar to the UN global fund must be established to help finance the plan. Money is not as important as peoples lives. Above all business require a healthy nation to prosper. Our economy can only grow faster in conditions free from the scourge of AIDS.

It is now time to put our money where our mouth is. Like all of us, business has justifiably in the past called for a serious governmental response to the AIDS epidemic. This plan, which has been developed with government leadership, offers that response. It is the responsibility of everybody, and particularly those with power and wealth, to make it work.

Finally, we want to say that, although it is an HIV plan, we must not neglect other diseases which are impacting on our people. In particular, civil society wants to draw attention to the problem of tuberculosis and the crisis of XDR TB. If we can work together to stop the further spread of XDR TB urgently, this will demonstrate our ability in the short term to stop the transmission of HIV in the medium term.

In conclusion, on behalf of civil society, I wish to say that we are ready for this challenge, not just to pay lip service to it, but to ensure that it is discussed and implemented at every level, particularly at the local level. We in COSATU will start with a discussion at the level of our locals on how to take the plan forward.
We promise unity of purpose, transparency, accountability, honesty and commitment.

Thank you