CAPE TOWN – In a frank presentation the health minister admitted that government might have been too optimistic and over eager in setting a target of enrolling 53 000 people on the anti-retroviral programme by March 2003.
She also admitted that the tuberculosis rates were worryingly high and that she would soon meet with provincial health ministers in an effort to find ways in which to stem the decreasing cure rate.
‘I am not happy with the cure rate,’ said Tshabalala-Msimang. ‘A large number of TB patients on treatment do not comply. The turnaround for sputum results is often too long. These are issues we must be really concerned about,’ the told the media gathering.
South Africa has a TB cure rate of around 65% while the World Health Organisation has set a target of 80%.
Flanked by her deputy Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge and Education Minister Naledi Pandor, the health minister read an 11-page presentation before getting to the finer details in question time with most of the questions directed at the health sector.
Tshabalala-Msimang admitted that there had been a lot of pressure on the department to put together a treatment plan and that it was only during implementation that they were able to identify many of the constraints and hurdles.
‘Even in Bangkok the WHO admitted that their target of having three million people on ARVs by 2005 were unrealistic,’ she pointed out.
She said that the department had been forced to put many training programmes in place as they discovered that few health professionals understood HIV/AIDS.
A patient information system should also be up and running by the end of month, a crucial tool in ensuring that patients were able to comply with the various regimens of medicine. This would enable the monitoring of patients who migrate or who are unable to return to the site where they received their original prescription.
Tshabalala-Msimang challenged the media to ‘hold us to whether the sites are open’ (by the end of March 2005) and not whether 53 000 people were accessing ARVs.
‘We may find that some people want to stick to nutrition regimens while others will opt for traditional medicine,’ she said.
According to Tshabalala-Msimang there are currently 8 000 people on ARVs in the state sector.
The minister added that she was satisfied with the progress towards integrating TB, HIV and AIDS programmes in the provinces and more specifically at district level.
A long-term study on Multi-Drug Resistant TB was also underway with the first interim results expected shortly. The cost of treating a TB patient amounts to between R500 and R600 per year, but it increases to a staggering R20 000 if the person fails to complete the six to nine month course of drugs and develops multi-drug resistant TB.
Pandor reported that the transfer of the school feeding scheme to the Department of Education (from Health) was complete. She said it was currently reaching 85% of the 15 000 targeted schools.
The programme was also attempting to create employment for women who are encouraged to form small businesses able to administer the feeding scheme to groups of schools in their area.
It was also reported that the child support grant was being extended to children up to 14 years. Nationally, 463 000 children between nine and 10 years received the grant. This was 118% above the target of 391 000.
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