It is unknown how many people were simply turned away during a four-month moratorium which saw people with HIV in need of ARVs sent home and others who had been on the drugs for years being told that the clinic had run out of stock. Dr Yogan Pillay, Deputy Director General of Health in the national health department admitted that the province had ‘severe financial pressures’.
‘The Chief Financial Officer in the province oversees the medicine depot and has a close hand on ensuring that drugs get to the sites,’ said Pillay, who visited the province on Monday.
He gave the assurance that the extra funds coupled with the current provincial budget was enough to sustain patients currently on ARVs and initiate all those in need of the drugs.
ARVs are expected to start trickling into the smaller treatment sites, especially clinics, by today (Thursday)while some hospitals have started putting patients on treatment.
Rebecca Hodes of the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) said contradictory responses were coming from Pelonomi Hospital, a large HIV treatment site in Bloemfontein, where government officials said the moratorium had been lifted, but patients were still complaining that access to treatment was denied.
However, Bongani Hospital in Welkom this week started initiating 50 patients every day.
All but one clinic in the province’s Motheo district which includes Bloemfontein still did not have drugs at the time of going to press.
Hodes that it was clear that provincial officials had not fulfilled their duties and had likely not followed due process in pursuing emergency allocations for ARVs and other critical healthcare services which were cut during the moratorium which was instituted in November, or for adequately considering the dire consequences of these measures.
‘Whoever is responsible must be held accountable and must lose his or her position to someone else who is committed to fulfilling their role as an enabling figure in progressively granting sustained access to medicines in the Free State and South Africa at large,’ said Hodes.
Dr Francois Venter, President of the HIV Clinicians Society said the moratorium had translated into a death sentence for many.
‘People die without ARVs and we know a large number of people would have died. Who is going to be held responsible and accountable? This has done massive damage to the public health system and we need to know how it managed to spiral out of control within four months,’ said Venter.
Pillay also confirmed that the cutbacks in among others surgery, outpatient services and hospital beds were still in place in the province and that the drug supply crisis was not only contained to ARVs, but to many other essential drugs.
In terms of the waiting list, Pillay said the province had been tasked with developing a plan reflecting clearly how it was going to reduce it.
Pillay said he had also linked the province with the private sector hospital body which committed itself to providing ARVs for emergency cases, transport to get the drugs to sites and additional doctors, nurses and pharmacists where needed.