SANAC notes progress on HIV campaigns

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Pretoria - Government efforts aimed at tackling the HIV epidemic appear to be yielding results.

This emerged after a South African National AIDS Council (SANAC) meeting on Friday -- chaired by Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe -- noted that policy changes made to expand access to treatment had a positive impact.

In 2009, government made policy changes to expand access to treatment, care and support to groups identified as critical to efforts to reduce morbidity and mortality. These include pregnant women, people who are co-infected with HIV and TB, and HIV exposed infants who test positive at birth.

According to the Medical Research Council, studies on prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV show the rates of transmission from mother-to-child have been reduced from 10% to 3.5% nationally.

The decline in AIDS related deaths is seen as an encouraging reflection of the expansion of the treatment programme, SANAC said.

Government had also increased capacity to care for people living with HIV and require antiretroviral treatment (ART), it noted.

The number of public facilities now providing comprehensive ART has increased from 490 to 2 001. More than 1 750 nurses have also been trained on Nurse Initiated and Managed ART, making it possible for professional nurses to put people onto treatment.

In a further boost to the treatment programme, SANAC endorsed the National Health Council policy to initiate treatment for all those who test positive with a CD4 count of 350 or less.

Progress on the HIV Counselling and Testing (HCT) campaign, which began in April 2010, was also noted.

The campaign - which aims to test and screen 15 million people for HIV and other chronic diseases - has been described as a tremendous success after millions of people responded to the call to know their HIV status.

"Over the 15 months of the HCT campaign, 14 million people have been counselled and more than 12 million have tested for HIV in the public sector. In addition, 1.5 million were tested in the private sector. This reflects a sixfold increase in the number of people testing for HIV over the previous year. Of those tested, two million people were found to be HIV positive and were referred for further care," SANAC said.

The campaign also highlighted that fewer men than women had tested, and that important sectors such as the religious and private sector, needed to demonstrate more visible leadership in testing for HIV.

It was agreed that SANAC would embark on a targeted campaign to encourage more men and people at high risk of contracting HIV to go for counselling and testing.

The Deputy President also urged all South Africans who tested positive to go back to their local clinics to receive care.

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