Halting ARV rollout in Free State was regrettable

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Bloemfontein - The decision to place a moratorium on initiating new patients on Anti Retroviral (ARV) treatment in the Free State due to a shortage of funds, was a difficult one, says the Minister of Health Barbara Hogan.

The Free State Department of Health had placed a moratorium on the provision of ARVs to new patients in the province, except for pregnant women, due to budgetary constraints and an escalation in costs.

Only seven of the 28 ARV centres in the Free State are still without the drugs after a shipment of the drug to the value of R8.719 million arrived in the province on 11 February. USAID was able to contribute R11.2 million.

The minister, addressing health professionals during a visit to an ARV site in Bloemfontein on Thursday, said it had been an incredibly regrettable decision.

"Seldom has any people working in the health sector ever been faced with such a difficult decision to say they could not allow new patients onto ARVs. The level of stress that we witness here is indicative of just how serious the situation is," the minister said.

The Free State Department of Health last year had an unforeseen increase in expenditure.

It had put forward a budget for the financial availability to provide ARVs to 27 000 people, but received the budget for only 19 000 people, the minister highlighted.

The department, which is currently providing ARV's to 44 000 people, had to find the necessary budget for the provision of drugs themselves.

"The problem with budgeting in the health sector, with regard to HIV and AIDS, in particular, is it is almost impossible to estimate how many new infections there will be in the new financial year," she said.

The minister said there were other factors that were outside of the national and provincial health department's hands, such as increments in food and fuel prices.

"A lot of our medicine is imported and increase in price when the value of the Rand falls. The health sector is probably one of the most affected industries by a drop in the value of the Rand."

Ms Hogan explained that the provincial health department had also taken over the financing of municipal health facilities without any financial assistance from national government.

Last year there were also staff increases which meant more salaries had to be paid, significantly impacting on the provinces budget.

Ms Hogan conceded that funding was a problem for all provinces, including at national level.

"We, at national level, were told we need to cut our budget by R38 million for the new financial year. While we are trying to increase province's budgets, we are being told to cut budgets," Ms Hogan said