US gives SA another chance to jack up its HIV treatment - NGOs

29 April 2019 - 12:00 By TimesLIVE
The US threatened in January to cut its aid to SA's HIV programmes by more than R2.8bn, mainly because of the many HIV patients stopping treatment.
The US threatened in January to cut its aid to SA's HIV programmes by more than R2.8bn, mainly because of the many HIV patients stopping treatment.
Image: Gallo Images/Thinkstock

A plan to cut US funding to South Africa for HIV programmes is likely to be reversed - as long as the quality of services for people living with HIV is increased, say health NGOs.

"The turnaround is a major victory for people living with HIV in the country, as critical resources will be restored," eight NGOs said in a joint statement on Monday.

In January, the US threatened to cut its aid to SA by more than $200m (R2.8bn), or 30%, mainly as a result of the substantial numbers of HIV patients stopping treatment despite the risk to their own lives.

Anele Yawa, from the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), commented: "We are relieved that the potential cut to funding has been averted - it risked derailing our national HIV response and ultimately harming people living with HIV."

The announcement came during a second round of planning meetings held by the US President's Emergency Fund for Aids Relief (Pepfar) in Washington DC, the groups said.

South Africa will now, with sustained performance improvements in the Pepfar programme, have the opportunity to receive up to $730m (R10.4bn) for the 2019/20 financial year, said the activists.

The NGOs called for the funding to be used on effective interventions, saying that the problems were known as far back as February 2018, yet some promised interventions via a new "surge" plan and injection of funds to redress the poor performance were never actually implemented.

"Some of the 'surge' funds were committed for hiring an additional 8,000 community health-care workers, yet we now know that they were never hired and are only now being recruited," said Lotti Rutter, from Health Gap.

"Additionally, the plan included a promise to hire 12,000 clinical and clinical support staff, including doctors and nurses. Yet more than a year later, fewer than 3,000 of these new staff have actually been hired. To improve impact it is crucial that Pepfar uses this money to rapidly implement the agreed plan including, most critically, increasing human resource capacity at the front line of HIV service delivery in SA."

Yawa asked the South African government to do more to reverse the "disappointing" impact of its HIV programme.

"The public health-care system remains deeply dysfunctional and the HIV and TB response is being undermined by mismanaged and underfunded provincial health-care systems and shortages of health-care workers," said the statement.

A challenge facing SA's HIV response is how to get more people with the disease to start - and, importantly, stay on - treatment.

"The reality is that 2.7-million people are not on treatment, either never having known their HIV status, or more worryingly having started on treatment and then stopped," said the NGOs.

The statement was issued by Health Gap, Médecins Sans Frontières, National Association of People Living with HIV and Aids, Positive Action Campaign, Positive Women's Network, South African Network of Religious Leaders Living with or Personally Affected by HIV and Aids, Section27 and Treatment Action Campaign.