All HIV patients with a CD4 count of 350 or less will now get government antiretroviral (ARV) treatment, Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe announced on Friday.
Motlanthe chaired a South African National Aids Council (Sanac) meeting, where the announcement was made in Bloemfontein.
Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said in 2009 the treatment for patients with a CD4 count of 350 was open only to certain "vulnerable" sections of the society such as pregnant women and children.
'Everybody who is HIV-positive, regardless of what category they fall in, as long as their CD4 count is 350 they would start treatment."
The costs of the medication
Replying to questions, Motsoaledi said the new move would cost the country more in ARVs. The government would budget R5 billion for the first year with another billion rand added in the next financial year.
However, he thinks South Africa could afford the new costs as government had brought the cost of ARV medicine down by R4.7 billion, an estimated 53%.
This was done with government's new way of buying ARV medicines, which was done in a more "efficient" way.
Motsoaledi said the HCT campaign, which entailed a massive HIV counselling and testing drive which started in April 2010, was very successful.
In the past 15 months some 14 million people had been reached and 12 million people tested for HIV in the public sector and 1.5 million in the private sector.
Some two million people were found to be HIV-positive and were referred for further care.
Motsoaledi said 60% of those tested in the HCT campaign were woman and more would be done to get men involved in future testing programmes.
"This is not a battle only for women, men must come on board."
The minister also indicated that the ARV programme would be integrated into the future National Health Insurance system.
TAC welcomes announcement
The Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) released a statement welcoming the announcement by Motlanthe that all people with HIV with CD4 counts below 350 will be offered antiretroviral treatment.
Civil society has been calling for this policy change since the antiretroviral treatment guidelines were last updated. It is a measure that will improve the quality of life of many people with HIV, reduce mortality and reduce new infections. Up to now, the guidelines only provided for treatment for people with CD4 counts below 350 if they were pregnant or had active TB. All other patients had to wait until their CD4 counts fell below 200 .
(Sapa, August 2011)