Although there has been a decrease in the prevalence of HIV, the Department of Health is intensifying its HIV prevention programme including the improvement of regimen for Prevention of Mother-To-Child Transmission of HIV (PMTCT), said Health Minister, Dr Manto Tshabalala-Msimang.
Minister Tshabalala-Msimang was speaking at the first Global-World HIV and AIDS Alliance conference hosted in Richards Bay by the University of Zululand in partnership with Jackson State and Drew Universities.
Minister Tshabalala-Msimang said after about three years of stabilization, the 2006 survey of HIV prevalence amongst pregnant women attending public antenatal clinic shows a decrease in the prevalence of HIV amongst pregnant women from 30.2% in 2005 to 29.1% in 2006.
“The survey indicates that this decline is mainly amongst people under the age of 20 years 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 number of new infections (incidence) in the population,” said Minister Tshabalala-Msimang.
She emphasized that these positive findings require that the Department of Health and all partners intensify the implementation of prevention interventions and continue to work towards the ultimate goal of a society that is free of HIV infection.
Minister Tshabalala-Msimang said the Department of Health is working with stakeholders to review the guidelines for PMTCT in order to improve this programme. The guidelines will assist health workers to improve from single dose nevirapine to the introduction of dual therapy for PMTCT.
“The accumulative total of patients who started ARV treatment was estimated at 300 000 at the end of June 2007. A total of 342 facilities have been accredited to implement this treatment and more sites are being accredited to further expand access.”
She said these numbers makes South Africa to have the largest number of people on antiretroviral therapy in Africa and probably in the world. “How would you provide ARVs to so many people and still be labeled a denialist?” asked Minister Tshabalala-Msimang.
She identified lack of adequate health professionals as a key challenge in expanding the number of treatment sites and said the Department was implementing various strategies to address the challenges of human resources for health by improving the overall working conditions for health workers.
Amongst these interventions is the allocation of R1.9 billion for improvement of 46 hospitals in the country this year and R1,4 billion allocated for improvement of salaries of nurses by between 20-88% this financial year.