South Africa pledges to make HIV and AIDS a priority
To mark World AIDS Day on Monday, 1 December 2008, Amnesty International has welcomed signs of the South African government's change of direction in response to the country’s HIV epidemic. South Africa has the highest number of people who are HIV-infected in the world. The lack of political leadership has been one of the main barriers to achieving the right to non-discriminatory access to health services for people living with HIV and AIDS. However, the newly appointed South African Minister of Health, Ms Barbara Hogan, has affirmed her determination to strengthen the health care system’s response to the epidemic. In October, she declared: "With all our partners in the South African National AIDS Council… the country is committed to implement the National Strategic Plan for HIV and AIDS." She said this would include reducing the rate of new infections by half over the next three years but warned: "We must become organised and demonstrate urgency." A series of events have been organised in South Africa on World AIDS Day to launch a united campaign to tackle new HIV infections and deaths relating to HIV and TB. This collaboration, led by the South African National AIDS Council and involving government leaders as well as representatives in business, unions, churches and a whole range of civil society organizations, illustrates a renewed commitment to move forward in the fight against HIV and AIDS. Amnesty International has recently submitted its recommendations to the Minister of Health for addressing some of the urgent needs confronting a particularly vulnerable group in South Africa – rural women living with HIV and experiencing violations of their internationally recognized human rights. These recommendations form part of a report that Amnesty International published in March this year, entitled "I am at the lowest end of all’ – Rural women living with HIV face human rights abuses in South Africa." The report presents documentation on the impact of gender-based discrimination, including violence and economic marginalization on the lives of rural women who are living with HIV. It explores how these factors act as barriers to the women’s ability to realize their right to the highest attainable standard of health. The report also acknowledges the extensive work of civil society organizations and health professionals in promoting and protecting the human rights of those affected by HIV and AIDS in South Africa. Amnesty International has said that the organization hopes renewed efforts by the Government of South Africa will lead to the realization of the rights to health, life and dignity for all those affected by the epidemic.