The National Department of Health will from September 1, 2016 offer test and treat for all HIV positive patients in line with the World Health Organization’s guidelines.
In December 2015 the World Health Organisation announced new guidelines for the treatment of people living with HIV based on new research that found that initiating patients diagnosed with HIV as soon as possible, regardless of CD4 levels or WHO staging was beneficial. In line with the WHO guidelines, Minister of Health, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi announced during his budget speech in May this year that from 1 September South Africa will implement the new WHO guidelines.
What does this mean for our patients? Those that currently are eligible to be initiated at CD<500 can now be treated regardless of their CD4 levels. We have, on the basis of research evidence already removed CD4 as an eligibility criterion for HIV+ pregnant women, children under 5 years of age as well as HIV and TB co-infected patients over the past few years. This new policy extends this to all people living with HIV. The implementation of what is now known as test and treat for HIV will contribute to our National Development Plan goal of increasing life expectancy to at least 70 years by 2030 – people diagnosed with HIV can also live long and healthy lives once they are on ARV medication. The National Department of Health is aware that this announcement will result in more HIV positive people accessing Anti-Retro viral Treatment (ART) services, which may lead to congestion and increased waiting times at health facilities. In order to decrease the burden on both patients and health facilities, the Department has initiated a process of decanting stable patients, those that do not need to see a nurse or doctor more than once a year, into support groups and into the chronic medicine dispensing and distribution system through which patients can designate where their medication should be sent to, closer to their homes. This means that patients who do not have to see their health worker, need not come to the clinic to collect their medication as it will be sent to a point close to their homes.