February 22, 2007
South Africa's Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) is calling on the government to prioritize treating HIV-positive teachers and nurses in order to avoid future disruptions in key services due to AIDS deaths.
"There is not a single policy or program that targets these groups," said Olive Shisana, HSRC's head. "You have a crisis coming and you can't sit back and treat them like everybody else."
Shisana's comments followed a report in the South African Medical Journal finding one in seven public nurses and nursing students has HIV. The highest rate was found among nurses ages 25-34 - one in five. A separate HSRC study of the education sector found almost 13 percent of public school teachers have HIV.
"You want to make sure they get priority so that they can deliver services to other people," said Shisana. She criticized the health department's human resources plan for health care professionals as too conservative to meet demand. Of 5,806 health care workers with HIV, 2,745 already have AIDS or opportunistic infections, Shisana said, extrapolating from a 2004 study. Fewer than 2,000 new nurses are being trained annually, and the department's goal is to raise that figure to just 3,000 per year by 2011.
A health department official said education and nursing professionals should go to the same public treatment clinics as the general population. "Yes, they are important, but everyone deserves to be prioritized," said Dr. Nomonde Xundu, its HIV/AIDS head.