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Opening Remarks by the Deputy President of the Republic of South Africa, Honourable David Mabuza at the virtual SANAC Plenary

Ministers,
Deputy Ministers,
Premiers,
Deputy Chair of SANAC,
Chair of the SANAC Trust Board,
Officials,
Civil Society Leaders,
Private Sector Leaders,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Good morning.
 
In our last Extended Plenary in November last year in Mpumalanga, we resolved to intensify our response with a particular focus on prevention and accessible services to key populations.  Key issues that were highlighted and agreed on, included the following:
 
·      Urgent interventions are needed to reduce the number of new infections among young girls and women;
·      We must implement more empowerment programmes for adolescent girls and young women;
·      Our programmes must be aligned with the District Development Model, which is a critical instrument in strengthening coordination at all levels;
·      We must strengthen partnerships between government, civil society and the private sector in our response;
·      Stigma and discrimination are still wide-spread, particularly in health-care settings, therefore all sectors must work towards the elimination of stigma and discrimination;
·      We noted that South Africa has the highest number of people infected with TB in the world, and therefore SANAC must continue to focus on implementing commitments made at the High Level Meeting on TB in 2019;
·      Funding remains a challenge for all sectors, and more investment is needed with a particular focus on addressing social and structural drivers of HIV; and that
·      All our programmes and interventions should continue to be premised on the principles of human rights.
 
As we meet today, we are also confronted by the devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic.
 
The emergence of COVID-19 has been one of the most difficult moments that many countries all over the world have had to deal with in recent times. The pandemic came at the time when most countries including South Africa were approaching the target date for most international commitments on HIV, which include amongst others the UNAIDS 90-90-90 as well as the prevention targets set out in the Global Prevention Coalition.
 
The interventions we adopted and implemented, were necessary but also diverted our attention and resources from most programmes, thus slowing our efforts to reach our HIV and TB targets.
 
We must however stress that our decades-long fight against HIV, offered essential lessons for us as the country and the globe in general. We used those lessons to ensure that the approach to HIV guides us in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic.
 
Our mass community screening capacity came in handy for the country by using the same community cadres who are instrumental in our HIV and TB response on the ground. The existing testing infrastructure for TB using Gene-Expert machines allowed us to rapidly scale up COVID-19 pandemic testing as they use a similar platform.
 
Our approach as a country was later reinforced by the UNAIDS report that was released a few months ago, which highlighted the following:
 
1.   Key lessons learned from the HIV response should inform COVID-19 responses;
2.   HIV infrastructure is already driving COVID-19 pandemic responses and has the potential to catalyse accelerated progress; and,
3.   how the COVID-19 pandemic and HIV responses offer a historic opportunity to build a bridge to adaptable, results-driven systems for health that work for people.
 
We therefore grabbed this opportunity and ensured that we build the resilience of our health systems to be better equipped to deal not only with COVID-19 but also to create healthier, more resilient societies. Learning from our HIV response, we ensured and still continue to ensure that our interventions are rights-based, equitable and people-centred.
 
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused significant loss of life in many communities and has caused havoc in our economy, and most notably in those communities where inequities are more pronounced. Leveraging on the HIV and TB investments and our workforce helped to mitigate what might have been a disaster for the country.
 
One of the critical success factors of the HIV response that we leveraged on, was the importance of leadership and buy-in from communities in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
 
Leadership provided through the different structures from the National Coronavirus Command Council to Provincial and District Command councils, ensured that there is seamless coordination of the response at all levels. This approach is mirrored on our HIV and TB response.
 
Building on community activism developed through the early years of our HIV response, assisted the community response to  the COVID-19 pandemic to be quick and effective, albeit not at the level that we had desired. We believe that we cannot plan for people without them, hence our approach in dealing with public health emergencies.
 
The critical take away lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic are:
 
1.   That our health systems in the future, must be prepared to address any new major health crisis by being agile, results-driven, inclusive and people-centred. The COVID-19 pandemic and the response to HIV should be used as an opportunity to reimagine systems for health that work for people, maximize efficiency and effectiveness, attract sufficient resources and engage communities as essential partners for health.
2.   Response to the COVID-19 pandemic should be integrated with HIV and TB response to maximize efficiency and rationalise resources.
 
At this moment, it is appropriate that we thank Dr Mkhize and his team in the Department of Health for his stewardship during such a difficult time.
 
We know how under-resourced our systems are, but we were able to navigate through this problem, whilst meaningfully dealing with emergent public health issues. While we have made significant strides on COVID-19, we should all be concerned of rising infections that threaten our gains. All of us must be vigilant and comply with regulations, this pandemic is still with us and we cannot be complacent and lead to unnecessary loss of life. Living alongside this virus means that we must appreciate its presence and prevent its spread and devastation.
 
On the same note, we would like to officially welcome the new SANAC CEO, Dr Thembisile Xulu, to her first SANAC Plenary and wish her well in her new tenure.
 
As we meet today as the SANAC Plenary, we wish to remind ourselves that the road ahead in defeating HIV and TB is very long, and it needs each and every one of us to do what is right in their areas of leadership, as working in a collaborative and collective approach, ensures that we achieve more. Let us continue to show the same leadership that we have shown in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic or even triple it.
This Plenary should also consider and adopt proposals on collaborative work towards strengthening our national response to HIV, TB and STIs that would be tabled for discussion.
 
We therefore welcome you all to the extended SANAC Plenary.