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NEHAWU statement on World AIDS Day

1 December

World AIDS Day is commemorated every year on the 1st of December and provides an opportunity for every community to unite in the fight against HIV and AIDS, to show support for people living with HIV and remember those who have died.

World AIDS Day is important as it reminds the public that HIV has not gone away and that collectively, there is a need to increase awareness, fight prejudice and improve education to maintain and achieve the aims and objectives of the country as set out in the National Strategic Plan on HIV, STIs and TB 2012-2016.

HIV continues to be a major global public health issue. In 2015, an estimated 36.7 million people were living with HIV (including 1.8 million children) and in the same year, 1.1 million people died of AIDS-related illnesses and an estimated 25.5 million people living with HIV live in sub-Saharan Africa. The vast majority of them (an estimated 19 million) live in east and southern Africa which saw 46% of new HIV infections globally. Around 40% of all people living with HIV do not know that they have the virus.

It is important that we recognises the efforts made by the global AIDS response on transforming and reaching the goal of providing 15 million people with access to life-saving HIV treatment . Additionally, UNAIDS estimates that from 2002 to 2012, expanded access to HIV treatment averted 4.2 million deaths globally and contributed to a 58% reduction in new HIV infections.

In 2015, South Africa reported that it has the biggest and most high profile HIV epidemic in the world, with an estimated 7 million people living with HIV and in the same year, there were 380,000 new infections while 180,000 South Africans died from AIDS-related illnesses. Our country has the largest antiretroviral treatment (ART) programme globally and these efforts have been largely financed from its own domestic resources. The country now invests more than R1.5 billion annually to run its HIV and AIDS programmes and 48% of the infected adults receive the ART programme

However, HIV prevalence remains high (19.2%) among the general population, although it varies markedly between provinces, For example, HIV prevalence is almost 40% in KwaZulu-Natal compared with 18% in Northern Cape and Western Cape.
Our country has been relentless in its mission to turn the HIV, AIDS, and TB epidemics around and there are notable achievements to celebrate. A review of our efforts in addressing the HIV and AIDS epidemic over the past 21 years still are being addressed successfully and there is space for improvements.

There is also a scientific optimism around the benefits of treatment as prevention, and progress towards a cure and vaccine. As part of this, the Department of Health have started to give HIV-positive patients with a CD4 count of 500 or less on antiretroviral treatment, as opposed to the present CD4 count of 350. All HIV-positive pregnant women are receiving lifelong treatment, regardless of their CD4 counts. Currently, HIV-positive pregnant women receive treatment until they stop breastfeeding.

"Getting to Zero" is the overall agenda for responding to HIV in the next years to come this is aimed to echo the UNAIDS vision of achieving "Zero new HIV infections, Zero discrimination, Zero AIDS-related deaths." The priority may be zero discrimination in some parts of the world and zero AIDS related deaths in some other parts-it's important to keep this connection with our own local realities"

Despite all the achievements made against this epidemic the stigma and discrimination continue to undermine the efforts of prevention, treatment and care to the people living with HIV/AIDS. It builds devastating consequences to the affected and infected parties more than the illness itself and may mean abandonment by a partner or family, social exclusion, job and property loss, school expulsion, denial of medical services, lack of care and support, and violence for those affected by them.

These consequences, or fear of them, mean that people are less likely to go for HIV testing, disclose their HIV status to others, adopt HIV preventive behaviour or access treatment, care and support.

NEHAWU acknowledges that HIV/AIDS poses a serious threat to production in the workplace, health, wellbeing and development of employees, family stability and the socio economic well-being of South Africa. Noting as one of our aims and our policy is to ensure that policies are in place in all our workplaces and that all NEHAWU members including staff living with HIV and AIDS are treated with respect and dignity.

The South African Constitution enacted legislation, common law and policies to eliminate discrimination against anyone on the basis of their HIV status. Human rights abuse are still fundamental in contributing to the spread of HIV, hence the 16 Days of activism campaign against gender based violence is a starting point to bring reality and awareness to the social ill of civil, political, economic, cultural and social rights.

Gender equality is a key factor in addressing strategies to this course and for reducing vulnerability and the violation of human right and dignity that is currently existing. Harmful cultural practices and the inequalities in social clusters and workplaces exacerbate disempowerment and lack of access to information, education and channels that can ensure that action and protection is taken.

Prevention programmes in the workplaces are not only paramount in driving the prevention of new infections and changing high risk behaviours but an ideal environment for providing services to support through treatments, care and supporting our own structures through wellness programmes. An employee with HIV infection and related illnesses including AIDS shall be treated as any other employee with any serious illnesses/conditions.

NEHAWU recommit to intensify its work in ensuring that nationally as an organisation our focus is:

1. On training our leadership at all levels on key bargaining demands on wellness and HIV/AIDS and also how to incorporate HIV/AIDS issues in Collective agreements, we will also train them on the Revised South No 200 of 2010 on HIV/AIDS in the world of work, as it was announced by the Minister of Labour the New Technical guidelines on how to implement programmes on HIV/AIDS, TB & STI in the workplace
2. To resuscitate the HCT programme which was tailoring our recruitment programmes provincial and regionally and going back to our branches to educate and raise more awareness on HIV/AIDS issues in the workplace.
3. That the organization with the assistance of the ILO on HCT @work, shall identify priority areas to start intervention strategies that will focus on branches identified by the provinces for intervention and roll out of such programmes nationally in the union.

Programmes of HIV should address the issues of stigma and discrimination against those infected and those who still remains the vulnerable of socio economic and socio cultural practices like women, children and other marginalised groups in society.

World AIDS Day 2016 is an opportunity for all our members and staff to remind themselves that HIV is still a reality and that it is incumbent on all of us to continue fighting prejudice, stigma and discrimination.

As NEHAWU we say "A colleague, comrade, friend, sibling who is HIV positive is still a colleague, comrade, friend and a sibling"

Issued by NEHAWU Secretariat

Bereng Soke (General Secretary) at 082 455 2713; Zola Saphetha (Deputy General Secretary) at 082 558 5968; Khaya Xaba (NEHAWU Media Liaison Officer) at 011 833 2902 - 082 455 2500 or email: khaya@nehawu.org.za Visit NEHAWU website: www.nehawu.org.za