In hard hitting statements released on the eve of World AIDS Day, health professionals attached to universities in Cape Town and Johannesburg have demanded that Government expand access to antiretrovirals for all South Africans.

The Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) went one step further, calling on Government to reiterate publicly and in press statements that HIV causes AIDS.

“The University, and opinion leaders in the field of HIV/AIDS, state unequivocally that HIV is the cause of AIDS and request Government to ensure that no statements are made that might confuse the public about the nature of this disease.

“This will end the deepening division between the top levels of Government and the rest of the country, allowing the campaigns to move forward collectively,” the statement said.

Health faculty staff at Wits said government should acknowledge that HIV/AIDS posed “huge challenges to our society, and now must be recognized and treated as a national emergency.”

In Cape Town more than 350 health professionals, including doctors, nurses, therapists and scientists, expressed their “deep concern that the HIV epidemic in South Africa is out of control”.

Professor David Power of the School of Child and Adolescent Health (Paediatrics) at the University of Cape Town (UCT) said between 25% and 40% of children in facilities where they worked and taught on any given day were HIV positive.

He added that dedicated clinics at Red Cross Children’s Hospital and Groote Schuur Hospital were currently caring for more than 650 infected children.

“23% of all deaths at Red Cross Children’s Hospital are currently related to HIV infection,” Power said in a statement.

He said the HIV pandemic had reversed the gains made in child health and well-being.

Both departments at UCT and WITS called on Government to:

  • ensure access to the Child Support Grant for all children as well as welfare grants for communities most affected;
  • establish comprehensive programmes to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV throughout the country as a matter of urgency;
  • provide universal access to anti-retroviral treatment for HIV infected children and their parents or caregivers. UCT also urged drug companies to make these drugs affordable;

In addition, UCT called on Government to improve health care infrastructure to ensure good quality, accessible health care for children and their families.

Wits further demanded that Government state publicly that unsafe sex was overwhelmingly the main mechanism of transmission of HIV, provide post-exposure prophylaxis for rape survivors, implement national voluntary testing and counseling as a national priority and make resources available for the appropriate care of HIV-infected individuals.
– Health-e News Service