Motsoaledi: No more waiting for Aids drugs
Cape Town - South Africans who test HIV-positive will no longer have to wait for their CD4 count to drop before they receive antiretroviral (ARV) therapy, but will be started on treatment immediately, Minister of Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi has announced.
Delivering his budget vote in Parliament on Tuesday, Motsoaledi said the new treatment plan, which is in line with the World Health Organisation's new treatment guidelines released in December, will be introduced as early as September.
HIV-positive people only qualify for ARVs when their CD4 counts are 500 and below.
The news was warmly received by activists and experts in the HIV and Aids sector, with some describing it as a “game changer”.
Head of policy at the Treatment Action Campaign Marcus Low welcomed the introduction of the “test and treat strategy”, saying it would significantly reduce serious adverse effects of HIV infection such as tuberculosis and certain cancers.
Sasha Stevenson, an attorney and activist from social justice coalition Section 27, described Motsoeledi's announcement as “a step in the right direction”.
“The challenge will be to ensure that the health system works and that these drugs are accessible to those who need them,” she said.
In addition to the dropping of the CD4 count as a criterion for treatment, Motsoaledi said from next month the department would also provide pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEp) to sex workers before rolling it out to all vulnerable young women considered to be at high risk of HIVinfection.
A R3-billion campaign running over the next three years would focus on improving the economic opportunities for young women with the aim of weaning them off sugar daddies, reducing teenage pregnancy and keeping them in school, among others.
The programme, aimed at girls between the ages of 15 and 24, is bankrolled by the Global Fund, German Development Fund and Pepfar.
While the country was winning the fight against HIV and Aids, Motsoaledi said he was gravely concerned about the cost of cancer medication.
He warned the nation to brace itself for massive legislative and structural alterations to the private and public health-care system, in preparation for the roll out of the NHI.