Zuma commended for changing HIV, AIDS policies

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Pretoria - Much praise has poured in from various quarters for President Jacob Zuma, following the changes he announced on Tuesday to the country's HIV and AIDS policies.

Ululations and jubilations could be hard from all corners of the Pretoria Showgrounds earlier today, when President Zuma announced that as from April 2010, people who are HIV positive with a CD4 count of 350 will qualify for anti-retroviral (ARV) treatment.

"Most people missed this opportunity but we are very happy to see that the President is trying to correct the situation. He has given most people a chance to live longer," an elated Elgin Lekoape, who is the Gauteng Provincial Secretary of the South African National Tuberculosis Association, told BuaNews on Tuesday.

Lekoape said with ARVs being made available to people with a 350 CD4 count, more people will not rely on grants because at that stage they will still be fit and able to work, the treatment will be an added boost for them.

"With a 200 CD4 count, it was too late for most people as they had to deal with side effects and when the body is weak, they don't survive. At least with a 350 CD4 count, their bodies will adjust and get used to the treatment.

"We've been asking for this for a long time and finally, our President has listened and we couldn't be happier," he said.

Pearl Mantshi, who is living with HIV and a member of the Treatment Action Campaign, said with the treatment being accessed at 350 CD4 count, people will live longer as they would still be healthy, "I'm happy and more impressed because he (President) also told us when this will be implemented.

"President Zuma has put himself in our shoes and this shows that he understands what our families go through, hence he took this decision.

"I was also impressed when he emphasised the need for everyone to get tested. In that way, everyone will know his or her status and get information on how to live a healthy lifestyle," Mantshi told BuaNews.

She also commended the decision to allow pregnant women to start ARV at 14 weeks.

"If they get treatment at an early stage they will be able to get counseling and information on how to take care of themselves and their unborn child, have enough time to accept the situation and deal with it. Most of all they will be able to come to terms with the situation and get the support system needed," she said.

Mark Heywood, who is the chairperson of the South African National AIDS Council, said the President showed the nation direction and it was up to the people to do the real work.

"It is up to us who live in the communities, where stigma is real and painful to break the silence and stigma attached to HIV and AIDS," Heywood said.

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