The health ministry is doing cost studies on extending its antiretroviral therapy programme to HIV carriers with a higher CD4 count, deputy director general Kamy Chetty said on Friday.
Chetty confirmed to Sapa that this was possibly linked to a policy announcement President Jacob Zuma has said Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi would make next week.
At the moment, the state provides medication to HIV sufferers once their CD4 count - the number of lymphocytes per cubic millimetre of blood - drops below 200.
This is in line with early World Health Organisation guidelines for poorer nations. The recommendations have been revised because of the benefits of starting therapy before immune suppression reaches that level.
Chetty told Parliament's health portfolio committee that the department was studying the cost implications of extending the treatment programme to patients whose CD4 counts are below 300.
"Giving ARTs [antiretroviral therapy] to people with a CD4 count of 150 costs a lot less than giving it to people with a CD4 count of 300... These exercises are being done right now," she said.
"If the policy changes the (expenditure) estimates will go up," she told the committee.
She said the health department was determined to intensify its programme to prevent mother-to-child transmission and was also doing cost studies in this regard.
"The government and the department would like to see a situation where no child is born with HIV."
Call for programme to be extended
The Treatment Action Campaign has called for the programme to be extended, citing the example of neighbouring Botswana where the drugs are given to HIV carriers by the state once their CD4 count hits 350.
Zuma this week said South Africa must step up the fight against HIV/Aids and called for a behaviour change among the population to stem the tide of infection.
He said high levels of awareness of the disease and the world's biggest antiretroviral campaign were not sufficient to stop the pandemic.
"We should now seriously work to convert that knowledge into a change of behaviour.
Zuma said the SA National Aids Council, under Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe's leadership, would develop a set of measures to strengthen the programmes already in place. - (SAPA, October 2009)