Report Back from SANAC Plenary Meeting
Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe chaired a SANAC plenary meeting in Secunda, Mpumalanga province, on the 19th of April this year. Plenary was held in this region specifically to highlight the concern about the Gert Sibande district’s HIV profile, which has shown an increase in HIV prevalence. The last antenatal HIV-prevalence survey revealed that the district has an HIV prevalence of 46% – the highest of all 52 districts in the country.
The Plenary meeting noted the continuing progress that South Africa is making in the fight against HIV and TB. New plans to implement the new National Strategic Plan for HIV, TB and STIs were also adopted. Building on the success of the HCT campaign, which saw the highest number of South Africans taking up HIV-testing services and screening for TB, the new plan will intensify programmes aimed at prevention, treatment and destigmatisation of people living with HIV.
New testing campaign
A new campaign will be launched this year to encourage South Africans to test for HIV at least once a year which is vital since it is the only way to find out if one has HIV or not. For those who test positive, there is help available and patients will be able to receive treatment. Those who test HIVnegative will be counselled on how to continue avoiding HIV infection.
New fixed dose therapy
Another milestone in the country’s response to HIV and AIDS was also noted. Early in April, the Health Minister announced the introduction of fixed dose combination (FDC) anti-retroviral therapy. New patients initiated on ARV treatment, pregnant and breast-feeding women, and patients living with both HIV and TB are being initiated on FDC therapy. FDC therapy is a combination of three anti-retroviral medications in one tablet, to be taken only once a day. This eliminates the need for patients to take three or more pills at various intervals throughout day. The Department of Health advised that not everyone will have access to FDCs immediately. Those already on combination treatment must continue with their treatment until after July this year when it is expected that these patients will switch to FDCs. SANAC hopes that through the introduction of FDCs and the revival of the HCT campaign, the health system will catch more people who need treatment. The NSP has set a target of placing three million people on ARV treatment by 2015. There are currently 1.9 million people on treatment.
Reducing mother-to-child transmission and maternal deaths
Another target of the NSP is to eliminate the transmission of HIV infection from mother to child by 2015 and to reduce AIDSrelated maternal deaths. Over the past few years there have been encouraging changes in the rate of mother-to-child HIV transmission. Between 2008 and 2012, it dropped from 8 % to 2.7 %. Between 2011 and 2012, the percentage of HIV-infected women receiving anti-retroviral therapy increased from 87.3 % to 99%. Almost 99 % of all infants born to HIV-infected women received prophylactic anti-retroviral medication to reduce the risk of mother-to-child HIV transmission in the first six weeks.
Reducing TB incidence and mortality
TB infection remains a challenge. It is a well-established fact that the majority of people living with HIV are co-infected with TB. According to the current NSP, the aim is to reduce TB incidence and mortality in people living with HIV by 50 % by 2015.
SANAC and civil society
The role of civil society in SANAC has been strengthened. A Civil Society Forum (CSF) was formed late last year and leaders were elected. The CSF structure aims to facilitate and maximise the participation of NGOs and other civil society networks, including those representing people living with HIV and AIDS. The forum will meet four times a year to review progress of civil society participation and share resources and information.
Sex workers and HIV
SANAC approved plans to launch an HIV-prevention programme aimed at sex workers. Further details of the programme will be released closer to the launch. Sex workers are one of the groups at high risk of contracting HIV and need targeted interventions.