BARCELONA – Based on existing resources, South Africa can ‘€œeasily afford’€ to provide anti-retroviral therapy to between 60 000 and 70 000 people in the next five years.

This was the conclusion from a study by Dr Chris Kenyon of the Health Systems Trust and Dr Andrew Boulle, a registrar in the School of Public Health at the University of Cape Town, presented at the 14th World Conference on AIDS in Barcelona yesterday (Tuesday).

The model for treatment was premised on the purchase of generic medicines. Only half as many people could be treated if generics were not secured.

In their study, Boulle and Kenyon showed that it would cost US $ 25 million to treat between 60 000 and 70 000 people by 2007. A large proportion of these costs would be offset by the savings gained from people who would otherwise report sick to hospitals and clinics requiring treatment for AIDS related illnesses.

Among the proven benefits of antiretroviral therapy is the boost it gives to the body’€™s immune system enabling it to resist the opportunistic infections that affect people who have AIDS.

Boulle said the model he presented was ‘€œdeliberately conservative’€ and was based on current health department budgets, in order not to make unrealistic claims on the South African fiscus.

Boulle said he believed government should demonstrate its commitment to treating people who were sick with AIDS by using its own resources to begin an antiretroviral treatment programme.

‘€œIt is cynical to make a treatment programme contingent on getting outside funds,’€ he said. ‘€œWe don’€™t need any outside money to begin treatment. If we raised extra resources we could extend the programme.’€

Boulle cautioned that although the model suggested 60 000 people could be treated, he was not advocating this precise number .

‘€œWe are wanting to demonstrate that a limited programme offering antiretroviral therapy is definitely possible,’€ said Boulle.

‘€œIdeally we’€™d want to treat as many people as possible. The number we can treat would depend on policy choices and a commitment to raise additional sources either internally or externally.’€