SA ups the fight against HIV/Aids

'The time has come to zoom in on HIV vulnerability of transgender women.'

South Africa is making positive strides in the fight against disease including HIV and Aids, says SA national Aids council deputy chairperson, Centurion Rekord reports.

But Steve Letsike was adamant that more had to be done to protect the vulnerable transgender women for whom recently released statistics were nearly 49 times more likely to be infected with HIV than the rest of the population.

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He said the government and its partners were implementing the largest HIV treatment programme in the world to an estimated 4.2 million people.

“But with 7.1 million people estimated infected, it is clear that much more remains to be done,” said Letsike adding that the country’s response to HIV was remarkable for one other reason.

Letsike said many people might not know that South Africa was one of very few countries that had included the needs of the LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex) community in its national response to HIV.

He said the national LGBTI HIV plan was launched at the national Aids conference in Durban last year.

“We know that the stigma and discrimination faced by members of the LGBTI community make it difficult for people to test for HIV and for those infected to seek treatment. Experience has shown us that excluding such communities from the opportunities to be tested and treatment only create problems and compromises our vision of an HIV-free generation,” he said.

“Despite transgender women being nearly 49 times more likely to be infected with HIV, there is currently very little information in South Africa about the specific HIV vulnerabilities of transgender women. In addition, HIV prevalence among transgender women also remains undocumented and, as a result, transgender women remain extremely vulnerable.”

Letsike said that was why the first local study into the prevalence of HIV among transgender women launched earlier this month by the Human Sciences Research Council and supported by the US centre for disease control and prevention should be welcomed.

“This study is also supported by various local and international academic and civil society partners and will be conducted in Cape Town metropolitan area in Western Cape, the Johannesburg metropolitan area in Gauteng and in East London, Eastern Cape,” he said adding the study went beyond just looking at HIV prevalence among transgender women.

He said the study would intensify the fight against other communicable diseases as well in “a country whose HIV/Aids treatment and prevention is regarded the most progressive on the continent”.

Living with HIV for 26 years: ‘It’s possible’

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