Pretoria – The National Department of Health will from September 2016 adopt a “test and treat” approach to HIV/AIDS in line with the World Health Organisation’s guidelines.
The new guidelines for the treatment of people with HIV were announced by WHO in December 2015. The guidelines were based on new research that found that getting people diagnosed with HIV on treatment as soon as possible, regardless of CD4 levels, was beneficial.
South Africa’s Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi announced during his budget speech in May this year that from 1 September 2016, South Africa will implement the new WHO guidelines.
What does this mean for SA?
According to the new guidelines, people that are currently eligible to start treatment at CD4 <500 can now be treated, regardless of their CD4 levels. “We have, on the basis of research evidence, already removed CD4 count as an eligibility criterion for HIV positive pregnant women, children under five years of age as well as HIV and TB co-infected patients over the past few years. This new policy extends this to all people living with HIV,” the Health Department said. The department said the implementation of what is now known as “test and treat” for HIV will contribute to the National Development Plan goal of increasing life expectancy to at least 70 years by 2030. People diagnosed with HIV can also live long and healthy lives once they are on ARV medication. “The National Department of Health is aware that this announcement will result in more HIV positive people accessing anti-retroviral treatment (ART) services, which may lead to congestion and increased waiting times at health facilities. “In order to decrease the burden on both patients and health facilities, the department has initiated a process of decanting stable patients, those that do not need to see a nurse or doctor more than once a year, into support groups and into the chronic medicine dispensing and distribution system, through which patients can designate where their medication should be sent to closer to their homes.” This means that patients, who do not have to see their health worker, need not come to the clinic to collect their medication, as it will be sent to a point close to their homes.