Undertakers in the small Karoo town report that they are burying around 120 people a month, while there are already almost 100 orphaned children.
Nationally, over 35 000 people are on waiting lists to get ARVs ‘ a situation that Deputy health minister Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge has described as ‘a serious violation of people’s human rights’.
Graaff-Reinet residents living with HIV says they are being forced by the clinic to jump through several hoops only to be told to return for another interview, meeting or assessment.
After a lengthy delay, the clinic was finally accredited as an ARV site in March. This was confirmed by Charity Bhengu, spokesperson for the national health department.
However, frustrated patients are no closer to getting the medication.
‘They have done home visits. I have been for several check ups. I have been assessed by the social workers. I have been back and forth for several interviews and meetings, but all I am told is to come back for another meeting,’ said one patient who did not want to be identified for fear of being removed from the waiting list.
In the interim, a few patients who have had the means have made the three-hour road trip to Port Elizabeth, found someone prepared to house them in a backyard shack and tried to access the drugs at one of the city treatment sites.
Sister Gwen Clifford of the Camdeboo Hospice in Graaff-Reinet queried whether the long delay in putting patients on ARV treatment was necessary.
‘There are many patients who are well prepared to commence treatment and would benefit tremendously from accessing ARVs,’ said Clifford, who deals with several AIDS-related deaths every month.
Treatment Action Campaign General Secretary Sipho Mthathi said they would be taking action and gave the authorities a week to start dispensing the drugs.
‘We are disappointed to hear such stories at this time, especially at a time where ambitious targets have been set to get people on treatment. It’s utterly disgraceful,’ Mthathi said.
Deputy health minister Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge has also expressed concern over the long waiting lists at various government ARV sites.
‘The last number I heard was 35 000 (people on waiting lists), but I think it is more and I really don’t know how to describe how this makes me feel. It is a serious violation of people’s human rights,’ Madlala-Routledge told a gathering of medical students and staff at the University of Cape Town earlier this week.
‘I hope the long waiting lists become a problem of the past. The problem has become so big. We have a huge problem in this country with so many people needing ARVs and not accessing it.
‘It is very sad to see people take the step, come forward and be tested, but they can’t access treatment,’ Madlala-Routledge added.
She said she also found it hard to understand that, despite the huge problems posed by HIV/AIDS, many provinces had not spent their entire AIDS budgets.
Lesley Odendal of the Public Service Accountability Monitor at Rhodes University pointed out that despite plans to dramatically increase the number of people accessing ARVs, the Eastern Cape’s total budget allocation for HIV/AIDS programmes had only increased by 5 percent in real terms for the 2007/8 financial year.
In the last financial year, the Department overspent its Comprehensive HIV and AIDS grant by 21 percent.
The ARV rollout target has increased by 48 percent from 27 000 to 40 000 patients to be put on treatment by the end of the 2007/8 financial year.
Eastern Cape health department spokesperson Sizwe Kupelo said the site had been accredited since February 2007. He could not say why ARVs were not being dispensed or how long the waiting list was at the site.