SA civil society groups, including the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation, have renewed their demand that the Joint Committee on HIV and Aids be reinstated. The committee, initially set up in 2012, was disbanded in 2014.
“Even setting the committee up in 2012 was a painfully slow process that took about four years of talks with key political office bearers, including the national Health Minister, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, with very little movement towards results,” says Rukia Cornelius of Sonke Gender Justice, one of the organisations calling for the reconstitution of the committee.
“Last year, civil society groups wrote two letters to both the chair of the National Council of Provinces (NCOP), Thandi Modise, and the Speaker of the National Assembly, Baleka Mbete, in July 2014 and again in September, 2014. We have also written to the chair of the South African National AIDS Council (SANAC), Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, in November 2014. Until now, our letters have not been answered,” Cornelius says.
“Their silence on this matter indicates an apparent lack of accountability, political will and leadership,” says Phillipa Tucker, co-founder of AIDS Accountability International, “Government should be using the mechanisms that have been created to ensure financial transparency and to make sure that the 6.4m South Africans living with HIV receive the full benefit of the funds that are dedicated to our nation’s HIV and Aids response.”
“We are seeking clarity on the status and future of the Joint Committee on HIV and Aids, and call for the committee which was to act as an advisory, influential and consultative body comprising of members of parliament from different political parties in the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) to be immediately reconstitued and reinstated. The committee was formed to monitor and evaluate the implementation of government’s HIV and Aids strategy, policy and programmes; to examine and evaluate existing and proposed HIV-related legislation, policies and budgetary allocations; as well as to ensure that HIV and Aids prevention and treatment remain as priorities on the national agenda. Without the committee’s existence and attention, all South Africans, including the more than 6m citizens living with HIV are at risk for the negative consequences that can be expected when HIV spending is not being monitored and if HIV gets deprioritised as a national issue,” the group said
Executive director of the Network of African People Living with HIV in the Southern African region, Thanduxolo Doro, says that “civil society organisations recognise the sterling progress that South Africa has made over the years in responding to the HIV epidemic, particularly in the areas of access to treatment, care and support for people living with HIV and Aids and we don’t want to see those gains being reversed.”
The committee was established to focus on the HIV and Aids pandemic and how its spread could be prevented. It was borne out of necessity, as South Africa was struggling with one of the highest HIV infection rates in the world. Now with less Aids-related morbidity due to the scale-up of antiretroviral treatment (ART), South Africa has the enormous challenge of reducing the number of new infections which has grown by 1.2m – from 5.2m to 6.4m HIV-positive people from 2008 to 2012 according to the Human Sciences Research Council’s 2012 national HIV prevalence survey.
Dr Fareed Abdullah, the CEO of SANAC, says that the SANAC Secretariat joins civil society’s call to reconstitute the committee, which would also force SANAC to be accountable to Parliament, saying “SANAC supports the call to reconstitute Parliament’s Joint Committee on HIV and Aids as HIV needs a multi-sectoral response and a multi-sectoral committee. It’s time South Africa understands that the HIV response, especially prevention, goes well beyond the health function.”
The chair of SANAC’s Men’s Sector and member of its Civil Society Forum, and co-founder of Sonke Gender Justice, Reverend Bafana Khumalo, adds that “as civil society members who are engaged in SANAC processes, we call for Parliament’s Joint Committee on HIV and Aids to be re-established because it plays a pivotal role in ensuring that there is adequate accountability on the HIV response in the country. As things stand, it is unclear who in South Africa holds SANAC stakeholders accountable. This committee will ensure that there are proper systems in place to advance the course of the response as we seek to put an end to new HIV infections and Aids-related deaths.”