Voices

Aids in SA is a global emergency. Here’s how we can slow it down

2018-12-01 12:00

December 1 is World Aids day. The following day Beyonce, Jay-Z and Ed Sheeran will perform at the Global Citizen Festival in Johannesburg, a brilliant and captivating movement which reminds us that living on this planet comes with its own rights and responsibilities.

As the chief executive of the company behind Durex, the world’s biggest condom maker, I’m often reminded of these responsibilities – particularly of the effect they have in South Africa.

There’s been about 270 000 new HIV infections in South Africa in the past year alone. It’s true that condoms aren’t usually dinner table conversation – and maybe that’s part of the problem.

As the world’s leading condom brand, it’s our duty to educate people about the importance of safe sex. But we also have the responsibility to highlight the struggles faced disproportionately by people in South Africa who are living with HIV, or at risk of contracting the infection.

The truth is that Aids in South Africa remains a global emergency.

Across the world, there have been significant inroads in the fight against Aids since the 1980s. New HIV infections have been reduced by 47% since a peak in 1996, and those who contract the virus can now be prescribed antiretroviral drugs.

But South Africa continues to experience the largest HIV epidemic in the world – with more than 7.2 million people living with the disease – they make up almost a fifth of the global population living with HIV. Of the almost one million people who died from Aids-related diseases last year, more than one in ten were from South Africa alone.

In the lead-up to World Aids Day, we’ve launched a global campaign to raise vital funds to help combat Aids in South Africa.

We will donate a minimum of $5 million (about R70 million) in a three-year partnership with (RED) and the Global Fund to directly support the Keeping Girls In School programme in South Africa, while the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will match our contribution taking the total to a minimum of $10 million. The Keeping Girls in School programme aims to reduce new HIV infections and pregnancies among young women by encouraging girls to stay in education and improving access to sexual health services.

We’re encouraging people around the world to get involved and “have sex, save lives” by using a special-edition (Durex)RED condom – where a portion of proceeds will be donated to the programme.

This is not an everyday campaign for us. But we’re in the business of ensuring safer sex.

Through our partnership with (RED) and The Global Fund, we hope to generate sustainable behaviour change that can continue to help South Africa break the shackles of Aids, and in doing so, support the United Nations strategic development goal number 3, “Good Health and Wellbeing”, to end the HIV epidemic by 2030.

For women of reproductive age globally, Aids related illnesses continue to be the leading cause of death.

These are alarming figures and progress needs to start with a renewed focus on South Africa at the heart of the epidemic.

So, as well as our $5 million donation we will also send a dedicated team to eight townships in South Africa to host more than 100 sex-education pop-up events, to raise awareness of safe sex and encourage the use of condoms to help prevent the transmission of HIV. The events will also include free HIV testing and sexual health counselling, and attendees will be encouraged to commit to the “safe sex pledge”.

I don’t work for a charity, but I do believe passionately in working for a company that cares. For RB and Durex, this is an opportunity to use our global reach as a business to make a real difference on the lives of people around the world.

Of course we can’t do it alone. Our campaign is simple, we want the public to have safe sex and save lives. It might sound flippant, but we believe it will make a tangible impact.

Rakesh Kapoor is chief executive of global health company Reckitt Benckiser

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December 9 2018