Good news, high stakes

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There is a sense of relief from the good news emerging out of the International Aids Conference in Washington. The tide, say experts, is changing. Medical advances and improving sexual habits mean more of us should be able to stay HIV-free, and those living with HIV can lead better lives.

This is encouraging and, to those battling HIV and Aids fatigue, a reason to carry on reading about a subject they might have thought they had no interest in any more.

Among the more gratifying announcements was about a new combination of drugs which offers hope to those with TB. The cocktail – which, amazingly, kills 99 percent of bacteria within two weeks – could cut the cost and time of treating the illness and would be more effective than what is currently available.

We join the rest of the world in commending scientists and other experts who have developed these new drugs out of the novel approach of testing them all at once. And we hope our department of health, which has dramatically transformed its approach under Minister Aaron Motsoaledi, is paying as much attention to this as we assume it is.

But there is also a down side.

Resistance to Aids drugs is growing on our continent, say international researchers. And this revelation will surely strike fear into the many people – doctors and patients alike – who had worried this would eventually happen.

The fact that tiny genetic mutations can make HIV immune to key frontline drugs could soon become a major problem for us, as stop-start treatment is said to fuel the problem.

As progressive as our health department has been, it needs to be critically conscious of this development. Shortages of ARVs such as we have experienced – and in some areas, continue to experience – simply cannot happen any more.

Drug supplies can no longer be interrupted, and there needs to be more rigorous monitoring of patients on a daily pill-taking regimen.

No matter how much good news is out there, the department cannot afford to rest on its laurels. The stakes are just too high.


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