Minister of Health Aaron Motsoaledi. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

HEALTH Minister Aaron Motsoaledi on Tuesday defended the government’s controversial plans to ban alcohol advertising, saying that alcohol was a key risk factor in the growing burden of non-communicable diseases facing South Africa.

Preventing non-communicable diseases would cost the country far less than treating patients affected by these conditions, he told MPs in the National Assembly.

"I’m not trying to motivate for a higher budget for health, but I’m mobilising for something that we know works — prevention of disease and promotion of health," he said.

"If you prevent (disease) you won’t need a lot of money. So when we say we want … regulation to curb this or that and people keep calling us the nanny state, we want you as leaders to understand."

The major risk factors for non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease were poor diet, smoking, lack of physical activity, and the use of alcohol, he said.

The government has introduced regulations on the salt and fat content of processed food, and is pushing for tougher measures to control the sale and advertising of tobacco products. It is also planning to ban alcohol advertising, a move likely to be fiercely opposed by the industry. Last month, the Cabinet approved the Control of Marketing of Alcoholic Beverages Bill, but it has yet to be gazetted for public comment.

"We are facing a titanic battle. Long after HIV/AIDS is gone, and it may do so in 30 years, the NCDs (non-communicable diseases) will not go away," Dr Motsoaledi said.

He was speaking shortly after he and Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe launched an HIV testing campaign in Parliament.

South Africa has the world’s largest HIV treatment programme, with 2.4-million people taking antiretroviral medicines, Mr Motlanthe said. Citing the latest Global HIV Report from Unaids, he said 70% of new infections last year were in sub-Saharan Africa. "Of most concern, the report shows that 88% of new infections in children under the age of 15 occurred in sub-Saharan Africa."

The government’s HIV testing campaign includes screening for tuberculosis and non-communicable diseases such as diabetes.

Dr Motsoaledi said the government planned to relaunch its HIV testing campaign in the Gert Sibande district in Mpumalanga on World AIDS Day — December 1 — as the district had the country’s highest rate of HIV.

He said he had recently met church leaders and asked them to choose a day when churchgoers across South Africa would be encouraged to screen for HIV and other diseases.