Scores of Aids and human rights activists marched across the city of Durban on Tuesday, calling for government intervention and an end to the stigma faced by those seeking treatment for HIV and TB related illnesses.
 
The march, attended by Health Minister, Dr Zweli Mkhize, KwaZulu-Natal Premier Sihle Zikalala, Health MEC Nomagugu Simela-Zulu and eThekwini  acting mayor Fawzia Peer among others, was a run-up to the opening of the ninth South African Aids Conference, currently being held at the Durban ICC.
 
Organised by the South African National Aids Council (SANAC), the march called for the breaking down of barriers in accessing HIV/Aids treatment and the rights violation of those living with the disease. SANAC spokesperson Rev Zwoitaho Nevhutalu said the discrimination and violation of rights extended to those also living with disabilities and victims of gender-based violence. “People are dropping out of the treatment. Government needs an urgent plan to resolve this human rights issue. By doing this it will eradicate the spread of HIV and Aids. The stigma prevents people from seeking help,” said Nevhutalu.
 
“They go to clinics and face discrimination. They are scared to disclose their status to friends and colleagues simply out of fear. We need the promotion of culture and human rights. Marginalisation of people living with HIV and Aids is a violation of the Constitution, government need to resolve this urgently,” he said.
 
According to UNAIDS there were 270 000 new HIV infections in South Africans and 110 000 people died from Aids-related illnesses in 2017. A number of new infections were adolescents, particularly in young males. 
 
“It is alarming that the infections rates are on the rise among young males. Our young men are not testing. They wait to find out their status via their partners because of fear. During that period of not testing they are infecting others. They need to know there are preventative measures but one needs to go out there and seek help,” Nevhutalu added.
 
The march was attended by a number of non-profit organisations. Among them the South African Positive Women’s Ambassadors (SAPWA) who called for bolder and more aggressive measures in combating gender based violence.
The organisation which deals in up-skilling women who have survived violent  relationships, GBV and with young women who are HIV positive, said that the government needed to prioritise women’s issues.
 
SAPWA spokesperson Ntokozo Zondo said men were always a priority. “As women we suffer a lot regardless of status. The discrimination and gender equality is evident whereever you go, even in clinics the first thing you see are male condoms. Where are the female condoms?” she asked.
 
Zondo’s sentiments were shared by sex worker rights activist Lihle Zuma. “Sex workers are looked upon and are among the vulnerable in society. By legalising sex work, they will be afforded better health care including treatment or HIV,” Zuma said.
 
The march coincided with the launch of SA’s National Human Rights Plan at the official opening of conference at the ICC.
 
Newly appointed Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize said he still had a task to do on working on sensitising law enforcement and medical professionals on the gender inequalities and in dealing with those who are living with HIV/Aids and those with disability.