AS THE year draws to a close and many people turn their attention towards the promise of the new year, it’s important to reflect on the past, as well as our status right now.

This year is the 30th anniversary of World Aids Day, commemorated annually on December 1. According to UN statistics, three quarters of those living with HIV worldwide now know their status. This is an encouraging statistic and a testament to the hard work and dedication of activists, campaigners and medical professionals.

Tragically, similar statistics are telling us that South Africa is still the HIV Aids capital of the world, with 7.52million people living with HIV. Statistics SA’s 2018 Midyear Pop ulation Estimates report states that South Africa’s HIV prevalence rate is 13.1% for the entire population, while 19% of South Africans aged 15 49 are HIV positive.

The good news is that since 2007, South Africa has seen the number of Aids related deaths decrease steadily, from 42.6% to 22.6% this year. It’s encouraging to see that an increase in access to antiretroviral ARV treat ment is having a profound impact, as is the vital work by civil society organ isations and health care programmes that are helping to curb mother to child transmission through education and awareness.

But sadly, the number of people living with HIV has risen, from 4.25 million in 2002 to 7.52million this year. It’s estimated that as many as one fifth of South African women aged 15 49 are HIV positive, although prevalence among young people aged 15 24 has at least declined from 6.7% in 2002 to 5.5% this year. These figures show that we need to be vigilant as a nation and take responsibility for ourselves.

Former president Nelson Mandela became a global advocate of Aids awareness, most notably through his 46664 campaign. But he was also personally affected by the disease in 2005 when his last surviving son, Makgatho, died of Aids. Mandela’s public announcement of the cause of his son’s death was a considerable taboo at the time, as Aids was not talked about publicly. Mandela proclaimed: “Let us give publicity to HIV Aids and not hide it, because the only way to make it appear like a normal illness, like tuberculosis, like cancer, is always to come out and say somebody has died because of HIV Aids, and people will stop regarding it as something extraordinary.” Mandela’s remarkably brave step, particularly during a period of such personal pain and anguish, resonated across the world. Today, barriers are gradually being broken down, thanks to awareness and activism. But stigma and discrimination continue to deter many South Africans from partaking in confidential HIV testing.

Too many people are only becoming aware of their HIV status after symptoms set in. Furthermore, many people living in remote areas still don’t have access to adequate medical care. Because of financial and logistical challenges, it isn’t always a realistic option for many to know their status.

For city dwellers, the availability of self testing at home is increasing and access to community- based testing is broadening, but this isn’t self funding and needs corporate and government support. The Relate Trust partners with several HIV Aids causes U2 front man Bono’s foundation, Red, mothers 2mothers, Ikamva Labantu HIV Aids programmes, Grassroot Soccer SA and the Clicks Helping Hands Trust to help extend the reach of HIV testing and provide education and support to those who need it.

South Africans are a resilient and proud nation of people who have overcome adversity throughout our country’s history. Through the spirit of ubuntu, we can empower one another in combating Aids, while making it a national conversation and responsibility. Know your status this World Aids Day. Together we can end the Aids epidemic for future generations.

For more information on how to support HIV Aids cases, visit UNAids or buy a bracelet in support of the fight against HIV Aids from the Relate Trust. The Relate Trust is a non profit social enterprise which predominantly sells hand made beaded bracelets to raise money for charities globally, while creating jobs for those living in low income communities. In the past three years alone, the trust has raised more than R26 million for health, education, conservation, social upliftment causes, and children’s and women’s empowerment, while raising more than 1150m since 2010. Visit relate.org.za for more info.

This article was first published by Cape Argus on the 30th November 2018.