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HIV Treatment Now For 2.5 Million

Resource type: News

The New Age | [ View Original Source (opens in new window) ]

By Zinhle Mapumulo

About 1 million more people are expected to be added on to the government’s HIV-treatment programme, bringing the number of those receiving such medication to at least 2.5 million.

Aids lobby groups that had been campaigning for more people to be put on the treatment programme have welcomed the government’s decision.

The programme will now include those with a CD4 cell count of 350 and below as the country’s treatment guideline had until last week only allowed those with a CD4 count of 200 or less to receive treatment. This, however, excluded pregnant women and people suffering from TB.

Taking more people on to the programme is also set to increase the R4.3bn cost of anti-retroviral drugs by at least another R1bn to just more than R5bn.

This follows Friday’s announcement by Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe that all HIV-positive people with a CD4 cell count of 350 or below would now be eligible for anti-retroviral treatment, marking a slight shift on the part of government, which had until Friday said that the cost implications made it difficult for it to increase the treatment threshold.

Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said the benefits would outweigh the costs of the treatment. Health department spokesperson Fidel Hadebe said the budget for the expanded programme would come from conditional grants and donor aid.

“The regulations come into effect immediately and the budget will be increased over the years,” said Hadebe.

The Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), which has been at the forefront of those pressuring government to introduce this policy change, welcomed the decision saying it was a positive step that would improve the quality of life of many people living with HIV and would help reduce deaths and new infections.

“We are very happy with government putting HIV-positive people on treatment early.

“What we need now is a policy that will ensure that people who are co-infected with TB and HIV are put on treatment – irrespective of their CD4 count,” said Caroline Nenguke of the TAC.

This is in line with the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommendations that all HIV-positive people should be initiated on ARV treatment when their CD4 count is 350 or less.

WHO updated its guidelines last year when HIV research studies showed that treating HIV positive people early could reduce the risk of transmitting HIV to their HIV-negative partners by 96%.

Nutrition also needed to be complemented with the treatment, said the National Association of People Living with HIV and Aids.

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Treatment Action Campaign is an Atlantic grantee.

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