23ec4bc90389.jpgAs provinces seek to align themselves with the implementation of the new National Strategic Plan (NSP) for HIV and AIDS, TB and STIs which came into effect this week, the Gauteng Department of Health has announced that it will intensify efforts to test more people for HIV infection. The province will continue with the Health Counseling and Testing (HCT) campaign, which launched in 2010 and whose main focus is to test people for HIV and TB.

‘€œWe still have to keep up the momentum of ensuring that we get as many people tested for HIV, make sure that the HCT is an entry point to the system and, also, linking people to treatment on time. The target for HCT for 2012 ‘€“ 2013 is at 3 million. So, when 2012 ‘€“ 2013 comes to an end, we must have counseled and tested 3 million people’€, says the provincial Health Department’€™s head of HIV and AIDS, Nomsa Mmope.    

Reverend Moerane, a member of the provincial AIDS council, says a concerted testing effort will go a long way towards reducing the mortality caused by TB and AIDS.

‘€œMany people still die unnecessarily due to delays in getting tested and accessing effective treatment in TB and AIDS. They did not get into treatment in time to save lives’€, Moerane says.

The new National Strategic Plan has set a target for Gauteng to enroll 600 000 new patients onto its antiretroviral treatment programme this year.

‘€œThis year, we had expected Gauteng to have over 500 000 new people on treatment. Next year, we’€™re actually making even a bigger demand ‘€“ that over 600 000 people will be on treatment and in the ultra year, we’€™re looking at over 700 000 people. We think these high numbers of people on treatment will actually make us to achieve our 80% coverage by 2016’€, according to Dr Thobile Mbengashe, head of the HIV and AIDS unit in the national Health Department.

But Gauteng has decided that 600 000 is rather modest and it has set itself an even bigger target. Nomsa Mmope, again:        

‘€œThe target that we’€™ve set for ourselves for putting patients on ART for the financial year 2012 ‘€“ 2013 is 992 000. Our targets are very high. They are somehow ambitious. But I know with support from everyone else and the energy that we have here, it will happen’€, says Mmope.    

The provincial Health Department head, Dr Nomonde Xundu, is confident that this is possible.      

‘€œThere’€™s a reason why we increased our targets for treatment from 600 000 to 900 000’€, Xundu says. ‘€œIt’€™s because we know we can do it. But we rely on suppliers and other people to make sure that we have the commodities that we need. We are working hard on that’€, she adds.

Xundu says preventing new HIV infections is also high on the agenda.

‘€œPrevention remains the mainstay of the response to HIV. I’€™m looking forward to the day when we won’€™t be discussing shortages of ARVs because of our effective prevention programmes. And I believe that this is possible. We can do this’€, she says.  

In preventing new HIV infections, the national Health Department says it is important for provinces to also focus on key marginalised population groups as they roll out their plans in line with the National Strategic Plan on HIV and AIDS, TB and STIs.

‘€œInformal settlements are the biggest challenge in relation to HIV and AIDS. It is not because they are poor. It’€™s just (that) the conditions that they are living in do not support them. People who travel long distances’€¦ we need to provide them with an extraordinary support and an outreach programme. Men who have sex with men are not easy to reach. We need to reach out. Commercial sex workers’€¦ we need to actually provide an outreach for them. And these outreach programmes will really make our national programme to actually achieve its objective’€.

‘€œWe propose that provinces must prioritise informal settlements. They must promote access to prevention and treatment to marginal groups, in particular sex workers and men who have sex with men’€, says Dr Mbengashe.