South African President Jacob Zuma unequivocally declared today that his country had to step up its efforts against HIV/AIDS. "We need to do more, and we need to do better, together," said Zuma in a speech to a meeting of the National Council of Provinces in Cape Town. "Let us resolve now that this should be the day on which we start to turn the tide in the battle against AIDS."
Zuma's declarations might seem like boilerplate in other countries, but they marked a sharp departure from his predecessor, Thabo Mbeki, who brought much criticism to South Africa by questioning the evidence that HIV truly caused AIDS. South Africa, which has 5.7 million HIV-infected people, more than any country in the world, was notoriously slow to begin using anti-HIV drugs both as treatments and as a way to slow spread from infected, pregnant women to their babies.
Zuma's words were celebrated by HIV/AIDS researchers, clinicians, and advocates around the world. "State supported AIDS denialism in South Africa is dead, deceased, kaput, finished, gone forever, banished!!!" wrote prominent South African advocate Nathan Geffen in a widely circulated e-mail. "We have won! Yahoo!!! I'm retiring."