ARVs now easier to get

01 September 2016 - 08:31 By KATHARINE CHILD
Image: ©GreenApple78/

From today anyone who is HIV- positive can access ARVs from a state facility - good news for about 4million people living with the virus but not on medication.

Until now only HIV-positive but people with CD4 counts lower than 500 (the measure of immune system strength) qualified for treatment under the Department of Health's treatment guidelines

The new policy is based on evidence that the sooner HIV-positive people start treatment, the better their health and life prospects are.

The department's Joe Maila said the policy "will contribute to our National Development Plan goal of increasing life expectancy to at least 70 years by 2030". Life expectancy is now about 63 years.

Data from UCT actuaries Leigh Johnson and Rob Dorrington, published by Spotlight, a Section 27 and Treatment Action Campaign journal, show that about 3.3million of 7.1-million HIV-positive South Africans are on treatment.

But it is expected to be years before most South Africans are on treatment. Section 27's Marcus Low wrote: "The model predicts that we'll hit the 80% treatment coverage rate only in 2022."

The study indicated more people were living with HIV, but the number of people getting infected daily stood at about 700 compared with 1000 several years ago.

The number of HIV-positive females aged 15 to 24 was declining from 15% to 11%, but they were still at high risk.

A recent study that tested the policy of treating anyone with HIV in KwaZulu-Natal showed the treatment did not work well in practice. A four-year Africa Centre for Population Health study in Hlabisa has raised concerns. It offered testing in homes and let thousands access treatment on testing positive. Only 40% did within six months. Many, most of them men, stayed away from treatment.

Former International Aids Society head Chris Beyrer said men died as they "don't get pregnant" and so stayed away from clinics.