Inroads made in treating HIV/Aids in Nelson Mandela Bay

Brian Hayward haywardb@avusa.co.za

MAKING PROGRESS. . . Bay HIV/Aids programme head for the Health Department, Nadiema van der Bergh, says the city has made huge strides in tackling the pandemic. Picture: Eugene CoetzeeTHE government’s adjustment this year of how HIV-positive patients are treated has been a major step towards bringing the HIV/Aids pandemic under control in Nelson Mandela Bay.

 

The Eastern Cape has the country’s sixth-highest number of HIV-positive residents at 10.6% of the population, while the most accurate method of measuring the infection rate – testing pregnant women – has shown the Bay to have a 29% infection rate, or about one in three pregnant women.

Amatole district registers the highest in the province, at 31.6%, with Cacadu the lowest, at 20.7%.

The past two years have gone down as one of the most ground-breaking periods with regards to making inroads in treating the devastating pandemic, according to doctors.

The number of sites dispensing ARVs in the Bay have expanded from 32 to 44 this year, treating just over 26000 state patients.

Provincial Health Department head of the HIV/Aids programme in the Bay, Nadiema van der Bergh, said there had been just 16 Anti Retroviral Therapy (ART) sites two years ago.

“What stands out for me is [Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi’s] announcement of the revised treatment guidelines in treating HIV in April this year,” said Van der Bergh.

The new guidelines mean woman and children with a CD count of 350 and below can get ART. Previously the threshold for all was 200.

Despite more people going onto ART, there was no shortage of ARVs in the city.

“If one clinic runs out, we immediately source from another. There is no shortage of the drugs.”

Studies have also shown that once HIV-positive patients are being treated with antiretrovirals (ARVs), the chances of them infecting a partner decreases by up to 90%.

The year has also heralded a greater co-operation between the government and NGOs, as well as private practitioners, in tackling HIV/Aids, she said.

“There are on average seven volunteers [community care workers, or CCWs] per state healthcare facility in the Bay to assist with monitoring patients on TB treatment, pre-and-post [HIV] test counseling as well as home-based care.

“We are able to serve a broader spectrum of the community. Churches and other faith-based organisations are also assisting with HIV counseling and testing.

A pilot project in Uitenhage was also being rolled out, in which nurses would go out into the community to provide essential health services.

The volunteers had also been trained to counsel and test patients for HIV – which in the past was done by nurses. Van der Bergh said this meant the city’s goal of testing about 230500 Bay residents for HIV between April this year and March 2012 “is possible”.

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