HIV treatment lifts SA life expectancy

9 October 2012

The government’s massive scaling up of its antiretroviral (ARV) treatment programme is beginning to show results, with a new report showing that, in the space of two years, South Africa’s life expectancy has increased by over three years.

This emerged in Cape Town on Wednesday during a briefing by the Department of Health’s acting director-general, Yogan Pillay, to Parliament’s portfolio committee on health on his department’s 2011/12 annual report.

Pillay pointed to a report just released by the Medical Research Council that estimates that the country’s life expectancy, which stood at 56.5 years in 2009, has increased to 60 years in 2011 (57 years for men and 63 years for women).

Added to this, South Africa’s under-five mortality rate has also fallen, from 56 deaths per 1 000 live births in 2009, to 42 deaths per 1 000 live births in 2011.

HIV/Aids and TB programmes

Pillay said these improvements showed that the department’s HIV/Aids and TB programmes were beginning to make an impact.

He pointed out that 50% of maternal mortality could be attributed to HIV/Aids, while 40% of mortality in children in under five could be attributed to HIV/Aids.

In the last financial year, the number of new patients placed on antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) increased by almost 50%, with 617 147 new patients placed on ARVs in the last financial year compared to 418 677 in 2010/11.

This number could increase again, Pillay said, as the department was planning to move soon towards a one-tablet-a-day ARV treatment.

He said the significant increase in ARVs was also coupled with the government’s voluntary counselling and testing campaign, which saw 9.6-million South Africans testing for HIV in the last financial year alone.

This was about five times the number testing annually prior to the launch of the campaign in April 2010, he said. In total, since the launch of the campaign, 20.2-million people have been tested for HIV.

Pillay said that with more South Africans with HIV/Aids on ARVs, people were living longer – and also pushing up the country’s HIV prevalence rate, which had risen among antenatal attendees, from 29.4% in 2009 to 30.2% in 2010.

Male condom conundrum

The department had distributed over 6.3-million female condoms and over 397-million male condoms in the last financial year. This had exceeded the department’s target of six-million female condoms, but fallen far short of its target of one-billion male condoms.

Pillay attributed this to service providers not being able to deliver the numbers specified in the tender as a result of a global latex shortage, delays in the registration of approved service providers in provinces, and legal action initiated against the National Treasury.

The department had also been able to improve South Africa’s TB cure rate, from 71.1% of patients in 2009 to 73.1% in 2010. However, this was still below the target of a 75% cure rate.

Other targets reached

The department had achieved its second unqualified audit in the last three years, spending 99% of its 2011/12 budget.

Detailing other results in the department’s annual report, Pillay said a national immunisation coverage rate of 95.2% had been achieved for children under a year old, exceeding the target of 95%.

In all, 59.6% of mothers and 57.8% of babies had received post-natal care within six days after delivery, against a 60% target for both.

When it came to births, 89.3% of deliveries (just below the 90% target) had taken place in health facilities under the supervision of nurses and doctors.

Pillay said 337 ward-based primary healthcare teams had been set up in 2011/12, exceeding the target of 54 teams.

To improve training, 80 medical students, drawn from various provinces, were sent to Cuba in the last financial year.