1 December 2009
South African President Jacob Zuma took the lead in the fight against HIV/Aids in the country on World Aids Day 2009, announcing bold and life-changing policies for people living with HIV/Aids.
Speaking at a World Aids Day event at in Pretoria on Tuesday, Zuma announced that South Africans infected with Tuberculosis (TB) and HIV/Aids would, as of April 2010, receive antiretroviral (ARV) treatment when their CD4 count was at 350 or less.
At present, state-sponsored treatment is available only when one’s CD4 count is less than 200.
“TB and HIV and AIDS will now be treated under one roof,” Zuma said. “This policy change will address early reported deaths arising from undetected TB infection among those who are infected with HIV.”
Approximately one percent of South Africa’s population suffers from TB, and the co-infection rate between TB and HIV/Aids stands at 73 percent.
Another change in policy is that, as of April 2010, all pregnant HIV-positive women with a CD4 count of 350 or less, or with HIV/Aids symptoms regardless of their CD4 count, will now have access to treatment. At present, HIV-positive pregnant women are eligible for treatment only if their CD4 count is less than 200.
“All other pregnant women not falling into this category, but who are HIV-positive, will be put on treatment at 14 weeks of pregnancy to protect the baby,” Zuma said. “In the past, this was only started during the last term of pregnancy.”
He said all children under the age of one would receive treatment if they tested positive, and that initiating treatment would not be determined by their level of CD cells.
“This decision will contribute significantly towards the reduction of infant mortality over time.”
In order to meet the need for additional testing and treatment, Zuma said the government would work to ensure that all health facilities in the country were ready to receive and assist patients.
Zuma also announced, to the applause of those gathered, that he would be taking an HIV test. “I have taken tests before and I know my status,” Zuma said. “I will do another test soon as part of this new campaign. I urge you to start planning for your own test.”
He re-emphasised the importance of all South Africans taking responsibility for their actions, saying that prevention remained South Africa’s most powerful and effective weapon in the fight against HIV/Aids.
“Let this be the start of an era of openness, of taking responsibility, and of working together in unity to prevent HIV infections and to deal with their impact,” Zuma said.