In an announcement on World Aids Day that signalled a break with the denialist policies of his predecessor Thabo Mbeki, President Jacob Zuma pledged a major increase in the provision of anti-retroviral medicines to HIV patients.
The country has more people with HIV – an estimated 5.7 million – than any other in the world, but distribution of anti-retroviral medicines was delayed for years by Mr. Mbeki, who questioned the link between HIV and Aids, and his health minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, who advocated beetroot, garlic and lemon juice as treatments for the disease.
From next April, all HIV-positive babies under the age of one will receive anti-retrovirals; mother-to-child transmission prevention will begin earlier in pregnancy, while patients with both HIV and tuberculosis will qualify for treatment earlier.
Mr. Zuma once told a court when on trial for rape – at which he was acquitted – that he did not use a condom when having sex with a woman he knew was HIV-positive and instead took a shower afterwards to prevent transmission of the virus.
The comments earned him ridicule. But since he took office earlier this year and appointed a scientifically orthodox doctor as health minister, activists have praised his approach.
He is preparing to take an HIV test and told a World Aids Day ceremony in Pretoria, “I have taken HIV tests before, and I know my status. I will do another test soon. I urge you to start planning for your own tests.”