Every year since then, we have celebrated Freedom Month this month to commemorate the historic occasion. This year it is of even greater significance as we celebrate 20 Years of Freedom. Since the birth of our democracy, we have worked to build a society based on unity and togetherness.
While there are still many challenges and more to be done, conditions have fundamentally with each passing day. Government invites all citizens to join the celebrations this month by relating their stories on how, through working together, we have changed the lives for the better.
Change is evident wherever we look and advances that directly affect the lives of our people are often the most palpable. Strides made in ensuring quality health care have been immense. Before 1994, the health system was highly fragmented and structured to serve only a small portion of the population. Public health services for the majority were inadequate and health care in rural areas was neglected.
We prioritised universal access to basic health care and our people are starting to live longer and healthier lives. One area that has drastically changed the lives of many in our success in the fight against HIV and AIDS, and Tuberculosis (TB).
Speaking at the launch of the Twenty Year Review 1994–2014, President Jacob Zuma said: “The country's improved response to HIV and AIDS and TB has resulted in dramatic improvements in health outcomes, such as increased life expectancy, reduced infant and child mortality rates and TB treatment outcomes.” We expanded access to HIV and TB-related health services and implemented the largest HIV Counselling and Testing programme in the world.
Our roll-out of antiretroviral drugs has given hope to millions as they live healthy and productive lives. Our fight against TB has moved us towards active case finding and rapid diagnosis using the latest GeneXpert technology. We are the first on the continent to roll out this technology which reduces diagnosis time from five days to two hours. Of the 4.2 million tests conducted since the introduction of the GeneXpert test, more than half were done in the country.
The review noted that community health workers had visited more than 100 000 households with known TB patients between April 2011 and March 2012. Furthermore, 160 000 people were screened; 3 000 people were diagnosed with TB and 3 200 with HIV. Premature deaths as a result of TB were significantly reduced as cure rates improved from 57.7 percent in 2005 to 73.8 per cent in 2012. Defaulter rates have also decreased from 8.5 per cent in 2007 to 6.1 percent in 2012.
Despite these inroads, TB remains the leading cause of death. According to Statistics South Africa’s Mortality and Causes of Death in 2011 report, 18 percent of people who died between the ages of 15 and 49 died of TB. The government is working with the mining sector where TB has a three times higher infection rate than in the general population. The migratory movement of mineworkers increases its spread.
Last week South Africa hosted a TB in the Mining Sector Regional Ministerial Meeting to develop a co-ordinated response to TB among mineworkers in Southern Africa. Urgent action is needed as Africa is the only continent unlikely to achieve the Millennium Development Goals target of halving TB-related mortality by the end of 2015.
TB affects productivity and operational costs in an industry that contributes almost 20 per cent to our gross domestic product. Local mining companies are required to X-ray workers when hired, once a year thereafter, and when they leave their employment. Health facilities at mines are now equipped with GeneXpert technology for rapid testing and have also been upgraded to provide treatment for multidrug-resistant and extremely multidrug-resistant TB.
Our fight is further boosted by an announcement of a R500 million allocation by the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria to screen 150 000 prisoners and 500 000 mine workers. TB can be cured if detected early and uninterrupted treatment is completed.
Early diagnosis also means a reduction in chance of others becoming infected. Government encourages all to be tested every year.
We need every South African healthy and ready to take our country towards Vision 2030.
Phumla Williams is acting CEO of the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS)