South Africa’s HIV/AIDS programme has come a long way from the dark days of denialism and deadly treatment delays. Francois Venter, chairman of the country’s bi-annual HIV conference, SA AIDS 2011, gave IRIN/PlusNews five reasons to be happy about the country’s progress:
1. Testing – About 12 million people in South Africa have been tested for HIV in the past year, representing just under a quarter of the total population.
2. Antiretroviral prices – ARV drug costs have been halved in the past six months, because of the country’s recently negotiated ARV tender. HIV is now one of the cheapest chronic conditions to treat in the South African public health system.
3. Treatment – Nearly 1.4 million South Africans are on ARVs – still less than half of those in need. But of the 1.4 million on treatment, 400,000 were initiated in the past year. The programme hopes to have 2.3 million on treatment by the end of 2012, according to Venter, who is also deputy executive director of the Wits Institute for Sexual & Reproductive Health, HIV and Related Diseases. Over 5 million South Africans are living with HIV.
At present, 1,668 public health facilities provide ARVs in South Africa.
4. Tuberculosis – South Africa has finally begun to tackle TB. Although about 70 percent of TB patients are co-infected with HIV, TB has been “the orphan of the health world for decades”, Venter told IRIN/PlusNews.
“[TB] has been mismanaged and hasn’t been given the resources it deserves. For the first time, it’s being regarded as the emergency it actually is,” he said. “For the first time, we’re seeing the drugs and the diagnostics; we need to now start making sure that the health system is one that allows us to start to tackle it.”
5. The re-engineering of the primary healthcare system – Venter called this initiative one of the most profound changes planned in the past 20 years. Expected to be community-driven, the restructuring of local health districts is set to increase access to HIV care and treatment.