Government’s focus on health as a national priority is gaining pace in South Africa’s economically most important province.
Gauteng’s Health and Social Development MEC Ntombi Mekgwe has set firm targets for providing anti- retroviral treatment to more people living with HIV, increasing male circumcision services and fighting the spread of tuberculosis.
This drive is taking off as the province records the success of public information campaigns that have resulted in fewer people between the ages of 15 and 24 being infected with HIV. Mekgwe recently announced that 1 019 Gauteng nurses had been trained to provide ARVs to improve access to treatment in the province. It will also reduce the waiting time for people who need treatment.
By the end of March 2010, about 417 000 people in the province were getting ARVs. The Gauteng Department of Health aims to increase this to 520 000 by March next year.
By the end of June 2010, 286 ARV treatment sites had been set up in Tshwane, Ekurhuleni, Metsweding, West Rand, Sedibeng and Johannesburg.
To provide treatment closer to where people live, especially rural areas, ARV sites will be increased to 385 by the end of March 2012. Mekgwe noted that apart from increasing access to treatment, education and awareness campaigns would continue. She said safe-sex campaigns in schools, wards and NGOs had already notably reduced new HIV infections in youth between 15 and 24 years.
Snip of change
The launch of government’s HIV Counselling and Testing Campaign started by President Jacob Zuma has led to more than 2,7 million people in the province testing by mid-June. Services for medical male circumcision will be increased to reach 125 000 men by the end of March 2012.
While the province is making progress in a number of ways, tuberculosis (TB) continues to hold onto its deadly reputation as the number one killer among HIV positive patients.
Patients with multi-drug resistant TB often suffer a loss of income since they have to be admitted to hospitals for treatment for up to 18 months. This is a major concern, especially if patients are the main source of income for their families.
To make sure that people can continue treatment while living with their families, the department will soon introduce the Community Multi-Drug Resistant programme. This involves community healthcare workers and trained family members who provide twice daily, home-based, multi-drug resistant TB medication and HIV treatment.
This will also include patients and families being supported through a programme called Directly Observed Treat-ment Supporters. These supporters are assigned by TB nurses to patients within their communities whom they must assist with continuous support to take their treatment to the end.
GeneXpert technology, which reduces the waiting time for TB test results to two hours, is already available at Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic and Edenvale Hospitals. It reduces the chances of patients not returning to hospitals to get their results, due to the long waiting periods.
In addition, an amount of about R300 million has been set aside to fight the spread of TB in the province from now until 2012.
“We will continue to ensure that TB cases are detected early so that those who are infected are placed on treatment thus curbing the spread and infection of the community at large,” Mekgwe said.