5 October 2009
South Africa’s HIV/Aids treatment programmes are reaching an increasing number of those in need, according to a new international report, with the number of patients on antiretroviral treatment almost doubling between 2007 and 2008.
The report, titled “Towards universal access: Scaling up priority HIV/Aids interventions in the health sector”, was released last week by the World Health Organization (WHO), United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) and Joint UN Programme on HIV/Aids (UNAids).
One of the most notable achievements, according to the report, is that the number of patients undergoing antiretroviral treatment almost doubled, from 458 951 to 700 500, between 2007 and 2008.
“While it is too early to assess the true impact of scale-up, programme reports already show signs of progress, with one of the largest treatment coverage programmes in the world now reaching half-a-million people,” the report said.
It further noted that prevention of mother-to-child transmission treatment was now available to over 50% of those in need.
Spending on Aids programmes
The report found that the National Strategic Plan for 2007-2011 was one of the largest treatment coverage programmes in the world, with South Africa ranked second in the world in terms of domestic spending on Aids programmes.
“The setting of targets has helped to galvanise the different stakeholders and foster a consultative participatory process, such as target setting, drafting and costing, resulting in the ownership of [the plan].”
However, major challenges remain around limited implementation capacity to fully put the plan into operation.
“South Africa has recognised skilled human resource capacity as a major impediment towards rapid scale-up of intervention programmes, particularly in the provinces,” the report said. “This is a major challenge, since human resource capacity, particularly in specialised fields of the health sector, cannot be developed overnight.”
Other challenges include the low uptake of prevention and weak service delivery structures, especially at lower levels.
National HIV prevalence survey
This report supports the recent study by the Human Science Research Council, which revealed that the response to the country’s HIV/Aids epidemic by the government and various stakeholders was starting to show some positive results.
According to the National HIV Prevalence, Incidence and Communication Survey, conducted in 2008, South Africa’s HIV/Aids epidemic has stabilised and there are signs of declining prevalence among children and teenagers.
It shows that the HIV prevalence has levelled off at 10.9% in the age group two and older.
According to the government’s Development Indicators, the 2007 antenatal care survey reflected a one percent reduction in overall HIV prevalence between 2006 and 2007, and a two percent reduction between 2005 and 2007.
It attributed this achievement to successful voluntary counselling and testing, prevention of mother-to-child transmission services, which were provided in more than 95% of health facilities, the distribution of condoms, and the introduction of a new dual-therapy policy in February 2008.
Universal access to treatment
WHO director general Margaret Chan said while the world was making tremendous progress in the HIV/Aids response, governments across the world should not rest on their laurels, with at least five-million people living with HIV still not having access to life-prolonging treatment and care.
“Prevention services fail to reach many in need. Governments and international partners must accelerate their efforts to achieve universal access to treatment,” Chan said.
UNAids executive director Michel Sidibe agreed, saying all indications were that the number of people needing treatment would rise dramatically over the next few years.
“Ensuring equitable access will be one of our primary concerns and UNAids will continue to act as a voice for the voiceless, ensuring that marginalized groups and people most vulnerable to HIV infection have access to the services that are so vital to their wellbeing and to that of their families and communities,” Sidibe said.