AIDS Day proclaimed public holiday in South Sudan

2 Dec 2011

AIDS Day proclaimed public holiday in South Sudan

1 December 2011 – Addressing the first World AIDS Day to be celebrated in the new nation of South Sudan, President Salva Kiir Mayardit declared the occasion a public holiday so that all people could attend future festivities.

"All ... must come and listen to key messages discussed here about HIV/ AIDS," the president said.

The disease had no boundaries and could strike anyone, either young or old, Mr. Kiir said. The pandemic could only be stopped through behavior change, and South Sudanese must act responsibly in halting its spread.

"If you are a man or women living with AIDS, do not spread it to other people," said President Kiir. "Be open by telling those who you want to have sex with that you are HIV positive. My advice to ... youth is that you use protective measures like the condom or abstain from sex."

HIV/AIDS services would be integrated into existing health institutions so that all people could access them easily, he said, and children with the disease would be the government's responsibility.

The president added that anti-retroviral treatment would become a key priority, so that the day's slogan -- Zero New HIV/Aids Infection and Zero Discrimination by 2015 – could be met.

HIV/AIDS Commission Chairperson Esterina Novello Nyok said the disease had remained elusive, as knowledge about it was still low among women and children across the country's 10 states. Other challenges included people having multiple sexual partners and the high level of stigma discrimination and denial regarding the disease.

Contributing to the pandemic's rapid spread in South Sudan were its weak healthcare system, poverty, low literacy rate, high population movement, polygamy and widow inheritance, Ms Nyok said.

She said that resources from the government for prevention, treatment, institutional improvements and development of the AIDS commission were insufficient, as was donor funding. Much more was needed for the country to achieve the Day's slogan by 2015.

Mbulawa Mugabe, Deputy Director of UNAIDS regional support team for eastern and southern Africa, speaking for the agency's Executive Director, said the past year had been one of achievement, despite the economic downturn stretching responses to the limit.

"Millions of lives have been saved and HIV/AIDS prevention continues to show results," the deputy director said.

He added that the HIV epidemic in South Sudan was at a crossroads, where decisions and action taken today would shape the future. "The road before us is clear. We can accelerate ahead on smart investment, capitalize on scientific achievements and ... respect human rights. This is what is required of us to move ahead."