Londiwe Buthelezi

South Africa saved $640 million (R5.2 billion) on the cost of antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) from 2011 to 2012 as the new tender process improved price transparency and boosted competition among suppliers.

This figure was revealed yesterday in the latest UNAids report, titled “Together We Will End Aids”.

The report showed that the prices of ARVs and many other HIV/Aids treatments have declined steeply in the past decade because of reduced procurement costs and rivalry between generic drug makers, among other things.

This indicated that investment amounts required to fight HIV/Aids could fall further in future, thus multiplying the economic gains tremendously.

South Africa’s public spending on HIV/Aids was among the highest in Africa and fellow Brics members Brazil, Russia, India and China. Domestic sources provided 80 percent of spending on HIV/Aids by South Africa, which quadrupled its local investments between 2006 and 2011.

In his February Budget, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan made a provision over the medium term of an additional R968m to accommodate provision of ARV treatment at the CD4 threshold of 350.

The country’s economic gains from this investment far outweighed the costs as more people returned to work and contributed to the economy.

The study showed that people receiving ARVs were able to resume productive work and potentially earn their customary incomes again. A seven-year study in KwaZulu-Natal found that 89 percent of the people living with the virus and receiving treatment either regained or kept their jobs. A recent study in Haiti showed early ARV therapy, provided at CD4 counts between 200 and 350 cells a cubic millimetre, was cost beneficial within three years.

Modelling based on HIV/Aids treatment provision in South Africa showed that providing universal access to drugs for those eligible could pay for itself in four to 12 years as people to returned to work.

The report also showed that 81 countries increased their domestic investments for HIV/Aids by more than 50 percent between 2006 and 2011.

Low- and middle-income economies grew domestic public investments for the virus drastically, with sub-Saharan Africa swelling it to 97 percent on average.

Other Brics countries now fund, on average, more than 75 percent of their domestic HIV/Aids responses from their own resources, with China and South Africa above 80 percent.

The global spending on HIV/Aids increased to $16.8bn in 2011, up 11 percent from the 2010 estimate. However, there was still a large shortfall in global funding for the virus and it was estimated that the annual gap would be $7bn by 2015.