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International News

South Africa Struggles to Provide Medications to All AIDS Patients

December 1, 2009

Thousands of HIV-positive South Africans have been unable to access free antiretroviral (ARV) therapy because of inadequate supply, with the worst shortages in Free State province, advocates say.

Lekgotla Nkopane has been taking ARVs for four years, but four months ago nurses told him they had run out of treatment. He has since been "very sick," he told Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) fieldworkers outside the Manguang Community Health Center. "This is the first time in four months that the nurses have given me my medicine. But I don't know for how long. I am afraid they will tell me again, 'Sorry, we have no drugs for you.'"

The story is familiar for TAC's Sello Mokhalipi and Thabo Nkwe, whose cell phones constantly ring with reports of people falling ill and dying because state facilities are not supplying ARVs. Some provincial health ministries, including Free State's ministry, deny there are treatment access problems, activists say.

"[But] in our office we have affidavits [by people] who have been neglected, due to the fact of not getting medication in time," Nkwe said. Provincial authorities "have hated us, because they say we made them look bad," Mokhalipi said.

The national government has allocated an additional 900 million rand (US $120 million) to prevent clinics from running out of ARVs before April next year. However, TAC says the funds are not enough to prevent deaths, and bureaucracy is slowing their delivery.

"The damage [caused by] these shutdowns is absolutely phenomenal," said Francois Venter, president of the South African Clinicians Society. "People die."

"When people don't get drugs and they die, other HIV-infected people say, 'Why should we test ourselves for HIV if we are going to die anyway?'" said Nkwe. "And so the disease spreads and spreads."

Back to other news for December 2009

Adapted from:
Voice of America News
11.23.2009; Darren Taylor

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
See Also
More on HIV Treatment in South Africa