File picture: Esteban Felix/AP

Johannesburg - The South African government on Thursday started implementing the universal test and treat programme where every HIV positive person is put on treatment regardless of the CD4 cell count.

Until Wednesday, HIV positive people with a CD4 cell count of less than 500 were put on treatment.

The government believes the new measure will stop the transmission of HIV and also improve life expectancy in the country.

Joe Maila, spokesperson of the Department of Health, told Xinhua that the new initiative would lengthen life expectancy to 70 by 2030. Currently life expectancy is at 63.

Maila said: “We have set ourselves a target as the government in line with our National Development Plan to increase life expectancy to 70 by 2030 from the current 63. This will also reduce the chances of HIV positive people to pass on the virus to others when they are on treatment. In the long run lives will be saved and money saved by this early treatment.”

The country has been running out of stock in some areas, resulting with people defaulting on their treatment.

Maila said they had introduced a stock visibility system which patients could download on their phones and report stock shortages when they experience them.

In South Africa about 11 percent of women between the ages of 15 to 24 are HIV positive. The Department of Health is now targeting the group with education to reduce the number.

The government has also started providing sex workers with preventative treatment, known as pre-exposure prophylaxis to fight the disease.

Maila also said: “We have an integrated strategy which also targets other killer disease like tuberculosis, cancer and diabetes. We also target vulnerable groups like youths and women.”

South Africa has the world's biggest treatment programme covering over 3.4 million people.

Maila said the universal test and treat is part of government's 90-90-90 plan which is an ambitious strategy to end the pandemic.

According to the plan by 2020, 90 percent of all people living with HIV will know their HIV status. The same year, 90 percent of all people with diagnosed HIV infection will receive sustained antiretroviral therapy. The government also intends to ensure that 90 percent of all HIV positive people receiving antiretroviral therapy will have viral suppression.

The World Health Organisation has recommended the test and treat guidelines for HIV patients. They also intend to have an HIV free generation by 2030.

Xinhau