HIV self-test. Picture: 123RF/PIXNOO
HIV self-test. Picture: 123RF/PIXNOO

The health department is confident it can reach its target of providing treatment to 6.1-million people with HIV by December 2020, despite being significantly behind schedule, a senior official said on Wednesday.

SA has the largest HIV treatment programme in the world, a reflection of the scale of its epidemic, which has affected an estimated 7.7-million people, according to the most recent figures from UNAids. The December 2020 treatment target represents part of SA’s contribution to the UN’s goal of ending the HIV epidemic by 2030.

At the end of September, 4.8-million people with HIV were on treatment, a target the government had aimed to reach six months earlier, said the department’s deputy director-general for communicable and non-communicable diseases, Yogan Pillay. The uptake has been particularly slow among children and men, among whom the coverage was 60% and 62%, respectively, compared to 72% among women, according to National Treasury documents released during the medium-term budget policy statement in October.

Pillay agreed that men and young people are proving the hardest populations to reach, and said a “concerted effort” is being made to provide services to them.

He spoke to Business Day shortly before Wednesday’s official launch of the government’s new HIV treatment programme, which is based on a generic three-in-one pill called TLD that contains tenofovir, lamivudine and dolutegravir.

The initial rollout is in six provinces — KwaZulu-Natal, Gauteng, Free State, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, and Eastern Cape — with the remainder expected to shortly follow suit.

TLD is cheaper and has fewer side-effects than the current mainstay treatment, TEE, which contains tenofovir, emtricitabine and efavirenz. However, TLD is not safe for women in the first six weeks of pregnancy, and so the provision of the drug is to go hand-in-hand with improved contraceptive services, said Pillay.  

He said the supply constraints that led to shortages of contraceptives earlier in 2019 have been resolved, and all back orders should be fulfilled by December 1.

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