President Jacob Zuma

President Jacob Zuma has announced the most significant government-led interventions to stem the AIDS epidemic since its emergence more than 20 years ago, stating that extraordinary measures are needed.

In accordance with international best practice all HIV positive children under one year of age will receive antiretroviral treatment, no matter what their CD4 count (a measure of immune system strength) is.

All HIV patients with tuberculosis will receive anti-retrovirals if their CD4 count is 350 or less. Present guidelines determine that treatment should be initiated at a cut off of 200, a directive which is outdated.

“We have taken this step, particularly on learning that approximately 1% of our population has TB and that the co-infection between TB and HIV is 73%,” Zuma told a World AIDS Day gathering in Pretoria.

He also announced that all pregnant HIV positive women with a CD4 count of 350 or with AIDS-related symptoms (regardless of CD4 count) will have access to treatment. At present HIV positive pregnant women are eligible for treatment if their CD4 count is less than 200.

All other pregnant women not falling into this category, but who are HIV positive, will be put on treatment at 14 weeks of pregnancy to protect the baby.

Zuma said that in order to meet the need for testing and treatment, Government would work to ensure that all the health institutions in the country were ready to receive and assist patients and not just a few accredited ARV centres.

“Any citizen should be able to move into any health centre and ask for counselling, testing and even treatment if needed,” said Zuma.

He also announced that Government would be launching a massive HIV testing campaign to ensure that every South Africa knew their status adding that he knew his, but would be undergoing another test soon.

United States Ambassador Donald H Gips announced at the gathering that America would provide an additional U$120 million (approximately R900 million) over two years for anti-retroviral drugs.

The US said the one-time extra funding to procure ARVs would help ensure that there were adequate stocks on hand to meet the growing demand for ARVs in South Africa.

“This funding is over and above the R4.2 billion budgeted for the regular U.S. government contribution to the fight against HIV/AIDS in South Africa (2010 fiscal year). It will assist the Department of Health and provincial governments to meet their goals for antiretroviral treatments and to help build capacity in the provinces for planning and forecasting ARV needs. The additional funding is in direct response to a request from President Jacob Zuma,” the statement said.

The US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) support in South Africa from 2004-2009 has totalled over R10 billion.

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