Panicky e-mails were sent to ARV treatment sites in the province last week ordering them to stop putting new patients onto ARVs with immediate effect with health workers expressing concern that the supply of drugs being used for current patients would also run dry by January.
Health minister Barbara Hogan announced yesterday (SUBS: WED) that she had dispatched a team of senior officials from her department to the province to work with the provincial health and treasury departments to find ways of ‘resolving their financial and budgetary problems’.
Hogan has also ordered the immediate transfer of R9,5-million to procure essential drugs for patients on the programme.
The United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief has also granted permission for funds to be released to two non-governmental organizations working in the province to buy ARVs.
‘The Minister of Health has directed that we engage urgently with the province to support them to respond to this challenge. The Minister had directed that a team from the national department visit the Department of Health in the Free State as a matter of urgency to understand the nature and extent of the challenges that they face’, confirmed Dr Yogan Pillay, Deputy Director-General in charge of Strategic Health Programmes in the National health department.
‘For us it is important that we do not in any way compromise the health of our patients ‘ including those who either have been initiated or need to be initiated into the ARV programme as a result of budget difficulties. We want to re-assure members of the public that we are working with urgency on resolving the problem, jointly with our counterparts in the Free State’, said Pillay.
Meanwhile, the Treatment Action Campaign earlier called for an immediate end to the stoppages as well as an investigation into the source of these shortages and stoppages, which they said allegedly stemmed from financial mismanagement within the Free State Health Department.
The TAC demanded the establishment of an interim committee and process which would ensure that treatment was made available to patients while the investigation and audit was underway while the staff members responsible be held accountable.
Treasury’s Mid-Term Provincial Budget Report confirmed that the Free State had spent less than 50% of its R189,6-million grant earmarked for the prevention and treatment of HIV and AIDS. According to Treasury records R94-million of the Free State grant had been transferred to the province.
‘They don’t have a money problem. Our projections show that if there is an overspend by the end of the financial year it will be marginal,’ said Treasury spokesperson Thoraya Pandy.
In April, the province had 28 787 people on treatment.