Health Minister, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, says HIV patients will start antiretroviral therapy (ART) as soon as they are diagnosed, regardless of their CD4 cell count.

Addressing parliament during the department’s health budget vote, Dr Motsoaledi announced that SA will adopt the WHO’s new “test and treat” guidelines for HIV patients in September.

SA’s current guidelines recommend that patients should wait until their CD4 cell count falls to 500 or below before starting ARV treatment.

Dr Motsoaledi said his department plans to provide preventative treatment known as Pre Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) to sex workers in 10 sex worker programmes from June this year. A policy change that falls in line with the WHO’s recommendation that all people at “substantial” risk of contracting HIV should be offered preventive ART treatment.

The WHO adopted the new treatment guidelines after researchers from the HIV Prevention Trials Network (HPTN) revealed that ART for HIV infection provides lasting protection against the sexual transmission of the virus from infected men and women to their HIV-uninfected sexual partners.

Dr Motsoaledi also said the department will launch a three-year campaign in June focussing on improving the economic opportunities for young women with the aim of weaning them off sugar daddies, reducing teenage pregnancy and keeping them in school, among others.

“These new programmes will cost an additional R1bn in this year’s budget, and we are happy the Treasury has made this amount available, despite the harsh economic environment in which we find ourselves,” said Dr Motsoaledi.

SA has the world’s biggest HIV epidemic, and the world’s biggest treatment programme. In December there were about 3.2-million people on treatment, about half the estimated number of people living with HIV.

Dr Motsoaledi said AIDS deaths in SA had declined from 320,000 a year in 2010 to 140,000 a year in 2014, thanks to the government’s drive to expand its treatment programme.

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