Govt steps up fight against Aids

President Jacob Zuma on Tuesday announced new measures to expand South Africa’s response to HIV/Aids.

“All patients with both TB [tuberculosis] and HIV will get treatment with antiretrovirals if their CD4 count is 350 or less,” Zuma said at a World Aids Day commemoration in Pretoria. The announcement was welcomed with loud cheers and applause.

At present, treatment was available for those whose CD4 count was under 200.

“TB and HIV/Aids will now be treated under one roof.”

The president said “extraordinary measures” were needed to reverse the current trend of the pandemic in the country.

“This policy change will address early reported deaths arising from undetected TB infections among those who are infected with HIV.”

Zuma said the steps came after it emerged that approximately 1% of the population had TB, and that co-infection between TB and HIV was 73%.

All pregnant HIV-positive women with a CD4 count of 350 would have access to treatment.
At present HIV-positive pregnant women are only eligible for treatment if their CD4 count is less that 200.

“All other pregnant women falling into this category ... will be put on treatment at 14 weeks of pregnancy to protect the baby. In the past this was only done in the last term of the pregnancy.”

In order to meet the need for testing and treatment, all health institutions would need to be ready to receive and assist patients, not just ARV-accredited centres. Anyone should be able to go into any health centre and ask for counselling, testing and even treatment if needed, he said. This would be effective from April 2010. Zuma said all institutions were “hard at work” to ensure systems were in place by March 31.

“What does all this mean? It means that we will be treating significantly larger numbers of HIV-positive patients. It means that people will live longer and more fulfilling lives.

“What does it not mean? It does not mean that we should be irresponsible in our sexual practices,” Zuma said to roaring applause.

Meanwhile, Zuma said on Tuesday that he will receive an HIV test, adding that he has been tested before and urging the public to find out if they have the virus.

“The HIV tests are voluntary and they are confidential. We know that it is not easy. It is a difficult decision to take,” he said.

“I am making arrangements for my own test. I have taken HIV tests before, and I know my status. I will do another test soon,” he said. “I urge you to start planning for your own tests.”

His public candour marked a sharp break from the denialist policies of former president Thabo Mbeki, who defied scientific evidence to question the link between HIV and Aids, delaying the provision of treatment to millions of people.—Sapa, AFP

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