The National Department of Health (NDoH) has announced that all people diagnosed HIV-positive will start ARV treatment regardless of their CD4 count from September 2016, in line with the ‘Test and Treat’ guidelines introduced by the WHO in 2015.

Earlier this year, Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi announced that the NDoH will implement the new guidelines, based on a breakthrough study that indicated the benefits of starting HIV treatment as soon as possible, regardless of CD4 levels. Until recently, only HIV-positive patients with a CD4 cell count of 500 or below could start ARV treatment.

“We have, on the basis of research evidence, already removed CD4 count as an eligibility criterion for HIV positive pregnant women, children under five 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,” said the NDoH.

The NDoH says 3.3 million South Africans who should be on ARVs are not getting the life-saving treatment.

The ‘Test and Treat’ guidelines could significantly impact how the virus is managed and will also contribute to the National Development Plan goal of increasing life expectancy to at least 70 years by 2030.

“The NDoH is aware that this announcement will result in more HIV positive people accessing anti-retroviral treatment (ART) services, which may lead to congestion and increased waiting times at health facilities,” said the NDoH.

In order to decrease the burden on both patients and health facilities, the NDoH says it 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.

Furthermore, patients who don’t need to see a health worker will be able to collect their medication at a location convenient for them through the chronic medicine dispensing and distribution system, self-service ATM-style pharmacy dispensing units (PDUs) that dispenses medication.

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