/ 2 October 2007

Health Department targets HIV prevention

The Health Department is intensifying its HIV-prevention programme, particularly for mother-to-child transmissions, Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang said on Tuesday.

The minister was speaking at the first Global-World HIV/Aids Alliance conference held in Richards Bay.

Tshabalala-Msimang said over the past three years surveys showed the prevalence of HIV in pregnant woman who visit public antenatal clinics had stabilised.

The latest survey indicated a decline mainly among people under the age of 20, followed by those between 20 and 24.

”The decline in the under 20s from 15,9% in 2005 to 13,7% in 2006 in particular suggests a possible reduction in the number of new infections in the population,” she said.

The positive findings have prompted the Health Department and its partners to intensify the implementation of prevention interventions and continue working for a society that is free of HIV infection.

The minister went on to say that the cumulative total of patients who started antiretroviral (ARV) treatment is estimated at 300 000 at the end of June 2007.

This means the country has the largest number of people on ARV therapy in Africa, and probably in the world.

”How would you provide ARVs to so many people and still be labelled a denialist?” asked Tshabalala-Msimang.

She said lack of adequate health professionals is the department’s key challenge to expanding the number of treatment sites.

The department, she stressed, is implementing various strategies to address the challenges by improving the overall working conditions for health workers.

Among the intervention is the allocation of R1,9-billion for improvement of 46 hospitals in the country in the 2007 year and R1,4-billion for the improvement of nurses’ salaries. — Sapa