SOUTH AFRICA: Who's Who on the National AIDS Council

Photo: The Presidency
Deputy President and SANAC Chairperson Kgalema Motlanthe
Johannesburg, 8 September 2009 (PlusNews) - The South African National AIDS Council (SANAC), long inactive, is showing signs of life. The revived secretariat moved out of the Department of Health and acquired a new CEO on 1 September, and recently flexed some of its new-found muscle when it recommended that government change outdated treatment guidelines.

IRIN/PlusNews introduces some of the faces behind what could soon be one of the country's most influential HIV/AIDS bodies.

Chairperson: Kgalema Motlanthe, South Africa's Deputy President

Motlanthe assumed the post of SANAC chairperson, always held by the country's deputy president, after national elections in May 2009. He earned praise from AIDS activist for replacing controversial health minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang with the popular and efficient Barbara Hogan during his brief tenure as South Africa's President from September 2008 to May 2009.

Photo: IPPF
Dr Nono Simelela, SANAC CEO
Chief Executive Officer: Dr Nono Simelela

After becoming the first black South African woman to qualify as a specialist obstetrician and gynaecologist, Simelela spent 20 years working for the Department of Health before becoming head of the National HIV/AIDS/TB Programme in 1998 under Tshabalala-Msimang.

She stayed in the post until 2004, when she left for Britain to lead the International Planned Parenthood Federation's technical knowledge and support division in London. She outlined some of SANAC's future priorities in an August interview with IRIN/PlusNews.

Deputy Chairperson and Law and Human Rights Sector: Mark Heywood

Heywood was active with the local AIDS lobby group, Treatment Action Campaign, and spent years lobbying to revive SANAC before being elected its Deputy Chairperson in 2007. He also represents the Law and Human Rights Sector in SANAC, which works to safeguard the rights of people affected by HIV and AIDS.

He currently serves as executive director of the AIDS Law Project, which uses the law to protect the human rights of those with HIV/AIDS.

Children's Sector: Dr Ashraf Coovadia

One of the country's best-known HIV paediatricians, Coovadia was an obvious choice to represent the sector charged with ensuring that children's HIV care, treatment, support and prevention receive adequate attention.

Coovadia heads paediatric HIV services at the Rahima Moosa Mother and Child Hospital in Johannesburg, and has been a vocal advocate for scaling up prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission services (PMTCT). He argues that improving these services is one of the sector's biggest challenges, along with reducing delays in diagnosing and treating HIV-positive children.

Photo: Global Campaign for Microbicides
Dr Samukeliso "Samu" Dube, head of SANAC's Women's Sector
Women's Sector: Dr Samukeliso "Samu" Dube

A public health physician, researcher and activist, Dube says women need their own sector, with its own specific agenda, because of their greater biological and socio-economic vulnerability to HIV. "It's not a case of one size fits all; what works for men does not necessarily work for women."

The sector's priorities include increasing access to the female condom and ensuring that research addressing HIV prevention among women remains a priority.

Dube is the Africa programme leader for the Global Campaign for Microbicides, and a committee member of Physicians for Human Rights in her native Zimbabwe. She was co-investigator on several HIV-prevention trials at the University of Limpopo in South Africa.

Deborah Baron, coordinator of the Microbicides Media and Communication Initiative, noted that Dube's scientific background and passionate advocacy for women are critical to the sector.

Business Sector: Brad Mears

Before becoming CEO of the South African Business Coalition on HIV and AIDS (SABCOHA) in 2005, Mears worked as an industrial relations consultant and was head of the HIV and AIDS programme of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry in the east-coast port of Durban.

"He understands the business environment very well," Paul Davies, chairman of The Aurum Institute, a health NGO that has helped several large companies implement HIV policies in the workplace, told IRIN/PlusNews. "He brings a different perspective to SANAC in representing a sector that is quite capable and willing to participate in the management of HIV."

People Living with HIV/AIDS Sector: Vuyiseka Dubula

Dubula is the secretary-general of the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), a well-known AIDS lobby group that won a court case against the government in 2002, forcing it to begin providing prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission (PMTCT) services.

She was diagnosed HIV positive in 2001, joined the TAC months later and worked her way up from local organizing in and around Cape Town to her current position, which she took up in 2008.

The sector advocates for the needs, rights and concerns of people living with HIV (PLHIV), but Dubula has her work cut out trying to unite the representatives of TAC and the National Association of People Living with HIV/AIDS (NAPWA), which each have their own PLHIV sector in SANAC and have yet to join forces.

Denise Hunt, executive director of the AIDS Consortium, a membership organization for local NGOs working in HIV and AIDS, said: "She's been at all the different levels of activism and ... is able to apply [that understanding] at a strategic level."

Photo: Nelson Mandela Foundation
Dr Olive Shisana is leading the Research Sector
Research Sector: Dr Olive Shisana

As head of SANAC's research sector, Shisana will help formulate a research agenda that provides scientific support to national HIV/AIDS policies. In 2005, Shisana became the first black woman to be appointed president and CEO of South Africa's Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC).

In her almost 20 years in public health she has overseen the World Health Organization's Family and Community Health Cluster, served as director-general of South Africa's Health Department, and worked as principal investigator on a number of large studies, including the third National HIV Prevalence, Incidence, Behaviour and Communication Survey, released in June.

Shisana cites lack of funding for the sector's work as the main challenge to achieving top priorities such as further research into male circumcision and re-examining prevention approaches.

Read more: SOUTH AFRICA: SANAC CEO charts new direction for slumbering giant


Theme (s): Governance, HIV/AIDS (PlusNews), PWAs/ASOs - PlusNews,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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