16 August 2011
South Africa is making progress in its efforts to tackle the country’s HIV epidemic, with mother-to-child HIV transmission rates sharply down, a huge increase in the provision of antiretroviral treatment, and more than 12-million people voluntarily tested for HIV.
This emerged after a South African National Aids Council (Sanac) meeting on Friday – chaired by Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe – noted that policy changes made to expand access to treatment were having a positive impact in the country.
In 2009, the government made policy changes to expand access to treatment, care and support to groups including pregnant women, people co-infected with HIV and TB, and HIV-exposed infants who test positive at birth.
Mother-to-child transmission rates down
According to the Medical Research Council, studies on prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV show the rates of transmission from mother-to-child have been reduced from 10% to 3.5% nationally.
The decline in Aids-related deaths is seen as an encouraging reflection of the expansion of the treatment programme, Sanac said.
The state had also increased its capacity to care for people living with HIV and require antiretroviral treatment (ART), it noted.
The number of public facilities now providing comprehensive ART has increased from 490 to 2 001. More than 1 750 nurses have also been trained on nurse-initiated and managed ART, making it possible for professional nurses to put people onto treatment.
Sanac endorsed the government’s policy of initiating treatment for people who tested positive with a CD4 count of 350 or less. Previously, state-sponsored treatment was available only when one’s CD4 count was less than 200.
More than 12-million tested
Progress on the HIV Counselling and Testing (HCT) campaign, which began in April 2010, was also noted.
The campaign – which aims to test and screen 15-million people for HIV and other chronic diseases – has been described as a tremendous success after millions of people responded to the call to know their HIV status.
“Over the 15 months of the HCT campaign, 14-million people have been counselled and more than 12-million have tested for HIV in the public sector. In addition, 1.5-million were tested in the private sector,” Sanac said. “This reflects a sixfold increase in the number of people testing for HIV over the previous year.
“Of those tested, two-million people were found to be HIV-positive and were referred for further care.”
The campaign highlighted that fewer men than women had tested, and that the religious and private sector needed to demonstrate more visible leadership in testing for HIV.
It was agreed that Sanac would embark on a targeted campaign to encourage more men and people at high risk of contracting HIV to go for counselling and testing.