South African Health Department Says Country’s HIV/AIDS Treatment Program Plan Behind Schedule
The South African Department of Health on Tuesday said that it was behind schedule in the rollout of its "Operational Plan for Comprehensive HIV and AIDS Care and Treatment" and would not meet its initial goal of having 53,000 people on antiretroviral drugs by the end of March, South Africa's Business Day reports (Kahn, Business Day, 2/25). The South African Cabinet in November 2003 approved a plan for a national HIV/AIDS treatment program, including the provision of antiretroviral drugs. The program aims to provide antiretroviral drugs to 1.2 million people -- or about 25% of the country's HIV-positive population -- by 2008. About 25% of South Africa's economically active individuals are HIV-positive, with about five million total HIV cases in the country (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 2/12). "At present, there are no patients on AIDS medicines. The figures we gave for the end of March are not feasible because the plan was approved only in November," Dr. Nono Simelela, chief director of the health department's HIV/AIDS program, said. She added that she could not specify when the first patients would receive the drugs, according to News24.com (Rossouw, News24.com, 2/24). The health department's drug procurement team plans to issue a request for proposals on March 5 and is scheduled to hold an information session on March 9, after which it plans to develop specifics on drug procurement, Business Day reports.
Simelela's remarks were part of a progress report on the rollout of the antiretroviral drug program that the government presented on Tuesday to the parliamentary portfolio committee on health (Business Day, 2/25). Simelela during the presentation also said that the rollout plan recognizes the role of traditional medicine in HIV care and calls for comprehensive treatment, including nutritional supplements (Nair, SAPA/Mail & Guardian, 2/24). The Ministry of Health is working with the country's Medical Research Council to research traditional medicines as HIV/AIDS treatments (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 2/10). Humphrey Zokifa, the health department's cluster manager of pharmaceutical policy and planning, said that the antiretroviral drugs used in the program will be stored in government depots in each province and will be electronically tracked to account for the drugs, according to the SAPA/Mail & Guardian. In addition, Kamy Chetty, acting director general of the Department of Health, told the committee that the plan includes prevention efforts, which "remai[n] the cornerstone of fighting HIV and AIDS" (SAPA/Mail & Guardian, 2/24). Representatives of the South African treatment advocacy group Treatment Action Campaign on Wednesday at a People's AIDS Forum in Johannesburg explained the government's plan to about 500 members. Presenters also discussed the role that civil society can play in fighting stigma against HIV-positive people (SAPA/Business Day, 2/25).