'AIDS-free sa is possible'

DR NONO Simelela, former head of the country's Aids programme, is returning to lead the South African National Aids Council.

Simelela, who signed on the dotted line at the recent International Aids Society meeting in Cape Town, left South Africa five years ago.

Though she maintained at the time that her decision was based on personal reasons, it was known that her work under the then Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang had become untenable.

One of Simelela's health department allies in the fight to secure treatment for people living with HIV and prevention therapy for pregnant mothers, former health director-general Ayanda Ntsaluba had left in 2003 to join Foreign Affairs.

Simelela has been director of the technical knowledge and support division at the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) in London.

Speaking via e-mail from London Simelela said she was "very happy" to be coming back.

"I know things are going to be better," she said. "I feel lucky to get a second chance to do this work with the support of all the stakeholders. An Aids-free South Africa is possible. We all need to believe this and work towards this vision."

Sanac, the chairperson of which is Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, is primarily responsible for steering the country towards reaching the National Strategic Plan targets that include initiating 80percent of those needing treatment on antiretrovirals and halving all new infections by 2011.

Before joining IPPF, Simelela worked for 20 years in the Department of Health, initially as a senior lecturer and clinician in the department of obstetrics and gynaecology at the Medical University of Southern Africa.

She later became head of the National HIV, Aids and TB programme in the Health Department, a position she held from 1998 to 2004.

Despite attempts by Tshabalala-Msimang to drag her feet on any interventions involving antiretroviral drugs, Simelela led the early national programmes in prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV and with Ntsaluba played a pivotal role in the implementation of the country's treatment programme. - health-e news