New policies to help people living with HIV, AIDS

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Pretoria - A wave of change swept over South Africa when President Jacob Zuma announced bold and life changing policies for people living with HIV and AIDS on Tuesday.

Speaking at the National World AIDS Day event at the Pretoria Showgrounds earlier today, President Zuma announced that patients infected with Tuberculosis (TB) and HIV and AIDS would now receive anti-retroviral (ARV) treatment when their CD4 count is at 350 or less.

At present, treatment is available when one's CD4 count is less than 200.

"TB and HIV and AIDS will now be treated under one roof. This policy change will address early reported deaths arising from undetected TB infection among those who are infected with HIV," he said.

President Zuma said government took these bold measures on learning that approximately one percent of the population has TB and that the co-infection rate between TB and HIV stands at 73 percent.

Another new change in policy is that all pregnant HIV positive women with a CD4 count of 350 or with symptoms regardless of their CD4 count will now have access to treatment. At present, HIV positive pregnant women are eligible for treatment if their CD4 count is less than 200.

"All other pregnant women not falling into this category, but who are HIV positive, will be put on treatment at 14 weeks of pregnancy to protect the baby. In the past, this was only started during the last term of pregnancy," he said.

He said all children under the age of one, will receive treatment if they test positive and initiating treatment will not be determined by the level of CD cells.

"This decision will contribute significantly towards the reduction of infant mortality over time."

The implementation of all these measures, would be effective from April 2010, he said.

In order to meet the need for testing and treatment, said President Zuma, government would work to ensure that all health facilities in the country are ready to receive and assist patients.

President Zuma announced, to the applause of those gathered, that he would also be taking an HIV test. "I have taken tests before and I know my status. I will do another test soon as part of this new campaign. I urge you to start planning for your own test," he said.

He re-emphasised the importance of all South Africans taking responsibility for their actions. He said prevention is South Africa's most powerful and effective tool.