CAPE TOWN, 1st DECEMBER 2015: Under the leadership of Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi South Africa has dramatically scaled up the provision of antiretroviral therapy to people living with HIV. This has led to a dramatic increase in life-expectancy in South Africa. We have also dramatically reduced the rate of mother-to-child transmission of HIV.
While the death rate in HIV positive people has come down substantially, the rate of new infections remains at crisis levels. There is still in the region of 1,000 new HIV infections in South Africa every day. Around 6.8 million people in South Africa are now living with HIV – and with the current medicines at our disposal all of these people will require treatment and care for the rest of their lives.
Yet, a number of provincial healthcare systems in South Africa are in a state of crisis. Over the last year the Free State has lost a quarter of its public sector doctors. In the Eastern Cape emergency medical services across the provinces are in a state of crisis – as shown in a recent report of the SA Human Rights Council. In Mpumalanga and most other provinces patients and healthcare workers continue to report stockouts of essential medicines at an alarming rate. Even while our healthcare system is generally understaffed, a number of provinces have in recent months placed moratoriums on the hiring of new staff.
In light of landmark findings from the START trial, we now know that treatment should be offered to all HIV positive people and not just to people with low CD4 counts. TAC has joined a coalition of civil society organisations calling on all countries to change their treatment guidelines to provide treatment for all HIV positive people. At present you can only get HIV treatment in the public sector in South Africa if your CD4 count is below 500 cells/mm3.
It will require well-functioning healthcare systems to deliver quality and sustained treatment and care to the additional people who will receive HIV treatment if the guidelines are updated. Given that we are already struggling to provide quality care at current treatment levels, simply changing treatment guidelines in itself will not be enough. It will have to be accompanied with increased investment in the healthcare system more generally and in HIV counsellors and community healthcare workers in particular.
We are at a moment in the AIDS epidemic where huge progress is possible, but only if governments and donors commit to a second big push. While the World Health Organisation and Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa speak of an ‘end to AIDS’ as if it is around the corner, an ‘end to AIDS’ will remain nothing more than wishful-thinking if the world fails to commit the resources to make it a reality.
- We call on the Department of Health to update South Africa’s National HIV treatment guidelines to recommend treatment for all people who are HIV positive irrespective of CD4 count.
- We call on the Department of Health, in consultation with treasury, civil society, and the South African National AIDS Council to develop an ambitious scale-up plan to ensure that all people receiving antiretroviral therapy also receive quality care and support.
- We call on the Department of Health, the office of the President, and on ANC leadership to intervene in the crisis in the Free State healthcare system.
Challenge to business and donors
On Friday November 20 the Stephen Lewis Foundation challenged donors to match its pledge of a one million dollar donation to the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC). The pledge was announced by the Canadian politician, diplomat, broadcaster and leading activist in the global response to AIDS, Stephen Lewis at a press conference in Toronto, Canada.
“It is a bitter irony to recognize that on World AIDS Day, December 1st, the premier organization in the fight against HIV/AIDS is in desperate financial straits. I speak of course of the Treatment Action Campaign of South Africa. No government, no international financial institution, no other NGO has come close to saving so many lives. Without TAC’s brilliant, principled, unswerving interventions, millions would have died, and millions would not now be in treatment. They took on a government in denial and forced it to completely reverse policy. If there’s any justice in this world, the international community of funders will fill TAC’s coffers to overflowing.” – Stephen Lewis
TAC urges businesses and foundations in South Africa to respond to the challenge from Stephen Lewis. We can’t keep looking to foreign donors for help. It is time we own our own epidemic. We are in this together.
Learn more about the $1m match challenge here: tac.org.za/news/stephen-lewis-challenges-donors-match-1m-pledge-tac
Download the ‘Toward HIV Treatment on Demand for All’ report here: http://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/organizerthomasdegravelles/mailings/31/attachments/original/Full_Report_Torwards_HIV_Treatment_on_Demand_for_All.pdf?1448894768
For media comment contact Mary-Jane Matsolo on 079 802 2686
TAC is involved in a wide variety of World AIDS Day activities across the country. You can contact the following persons for details on what is happening in each of the seven provinces where we work:
Eastern Cape. Noloyiso Ntamenthlo 083 487 1814
Free State. Christinah Jantjies 071 254 4704
Gauteng. Stephen Ngcobo 082 384 2387 / 073 846 0910
Kwazulu-Natal. Patrick Mdletshe 072 182 6833
Mpumalanga. Linda Mavuso 078 343 0206
Limpopo. Amukelani Maluleke 072 592 9897
Western Cape. Mandla Majola 076 609 8818 / 073 330 1868