Oxfam Ambassador Kristin Davis helps Oxfam break the stigma and close the treatment gaps fuelling AIDS in South Africa

By Oxfam

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JOHANNESBURG — Kristin Davis, star of US hit TV show Sex & the City, joined Oxfam and AIDS activists at a Johannesburg press conference on Saturday, 2 February, to support community efforts in addressing the HIV and AIDS epidemic in South Africa.

Kristin, an Oxfam Global Ambassador, shared a platform with the President of Oxfam America, Raymond C. Offenheiser, and South African activists, to raise up the voices of the communities she has met, and to help ensure that they are given the dignity of effective HIV treatment and care.

This is Kristin’s second trip to South Africa, and she used her time to revisit the strong women and community groups that touched her in Soweto, as well as learning more about how HIV is tackled in South Africa from new groups in rural areas and informal settlements.

The trip helped Kristin appreciate the power and importance of community workers in South Africa’s response to the HIV and AIDS epidemic, as well as the obstacles that are preventing millions of people living with HIV from getting the treatment they need, such as the shortage of doctors, nurses and treatment clinics, particularly in rural areas.

Kristin Davis, Oxfam Global Ambassador, said:

“I have been amazed by the incredible strength and energy of South Africa’s community groups in tackling the AIDS epidemic in this country. People like Mama Grace, who runs a soup kitchen in Soweto for orphans and other vulnerable children, are an incredible tower of strength in South Africa’s uphill response to AIDS. These unsung heroes are pulling together what little food and money they have to provide care to those living with HIV. Oxfam helps support them in this effort. These people are inspirational, but can’t win the battle on their own. These communities need nurses and doctors. These wonderful people are holding up their communities and need our support.”

The AIDS epidemic is the leading cause of death in South Africa, with an estimated 400,000 people dying of HIV-related causes each year. To respond, the country has mounted the biggest rollout of HIV treatment in the world, which has seen over 300,000 people receiving anti-retrovirals on the public health system. However, many barriers to good health for people living with HIV remain. A shortage of doctors, nurses and clinics prevent people from getting the treatment they need – in one community Kristin visited the nearest clinic was over 80km away, which meant people had to take a day off work and pay R100 or more for a round trip on public transport to get the treatment they so desperately required.

Oxfam’s South African partners, the Treatment Action Campaign and the AIDS consortium both spoke at the press conference.

Denise Hunt from the AIDS Consortium called on the South African government to empower and harness the skills of community health care workers to help extend access to treatment to more people, more rapidly. She called for extra training for the community groups already providing care. With training, those providing home-based care for men, women and children living with HIV could play a larger role in rolling out treatment.

Community care worker, Sibongile Mazibuko-Mkwanazi, raised the importance of tackling stigma as a part of the HIV response saying that stigma prevents people, particularly women, from coming forward for testing. “We should never allow HIV to come between us as families and communities’” she said. “All of us, one on one, need to be united in the fight against AIDS”.

Oxfam recognises the important role of community organizations and continues to support innovative approaches to expanding access to treatment and care for people living with HIV in South Africa, as well as campaigning on the global level for more doctors, nurses, and community healthcare workers to boost the level of care and treatment received by millions of people living with HIV.

Raymond C. Offenheiser, President, Oxfam America, says:

"The AIDS epidemic does not respect race, class, gender or ethnicity. But lives can be saved through unique partnerships that support access to medicines, quality health services and empowered community leadership. Behind the statistics lies a preventable human tragedy that can and must be confronted."

Kristin Davis was on a four-day visit to South Africa from January 29 – February 2, 2008. Kristin’s visit continued her efforts to gain a better understanding of the HIV/AIDS situation in the country. Organizations she met include Let Us Grow in Orange Farm, Circle of Promise in Soweto and HIV and AIDS projects in the North West province.

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