Counting the cost (and how to help!)

PERHAPS IT IS because the ravages of the HIV/Aids pandemic is mostly concealed from lush suburbia that many of the middle classes take a somewhat laissez-faire approach to what is essentially a nationwide crisis.

Yet even though you may not see it, the effects of the disease are widespread. Almost 1000 people die from HIV/Aids in South Africa every single day. Death is only one facet of this monster. The majority of people living with HIV/Aids are sexually active adults – incidentally those who earn a living for their family. Should these breadwinners contract fully blown Aids and die, teenagers (or children even younger) are forced to become proxy parents. They are forced to drop out of school so that they can support their younger siblings. Some turn to crime or prostitution in desperation. We have an estimated two million Aids orphans and vulnerable children, and this figure is only set to increase.

We cannot rely on government to save us. Take Khomanani, the Department of Health’s premier outsourced anti-Aids project, as an illustration of its sheer insouciance. The multimillion rand programme, which included advisory offices and a PR campaign, ground to a halt the moment the contract expired in 2006. Scarily, Khomanani seems to show no sign of being resuscitated – or replaced – any time soon.

There is still hope, though. We can be thankful that government has at last formulated an HIV/Aids plan of action and begrudgingly committed spending of approximately R45 billion on Aids over the next few years.

It wasn’t without a fight, however. To their eternal credit, the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) almost single-handledly forced the government to abandon its – essentially unconstitutional – policy of Aids denialism and ensure that antiretroviral drugs become a central weapon in the fight against Aids. There is still a long way to go: only 20% of those who need antiretrovirals currently have access to them. Until then, the unnecessary death toll will continue to mount.

It is no exaggeration to say that the TAC is perhaps the most powerful example of successful citizen activism in the post apartheid era. It goes to show that ordinary people who display extraordinary courage and determination can make a huge difference.

What can you do to help?

Civil society has a vital role to play in changing the course of South African history. It’s incumbent upon us all to do what we can in the fight against Aids.

Raising funds is one way. The Starfish Foundation, for example, fundraises for nationwide Aids orphan-related projects.

South Africans can also volunteer their time and effort to crèches, clinics, advocacy groups and other Aids-related programmes. Some of these are listed on the Impumelelo Innovations Award Trust website.

Lastly, be informed and aware. If you feel the government isn’t doing its job tell them! Or (like the TAC does) take them to court…

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