News 24,West Cape leading in HIV fight, 26 January 2004

Willemien Brummer

Cape Town - Fourteen Western Cape institutions are handing out free antiretroviral drugs to HIV/Aids patients, but in the rest of the country others, many of whom are critically ill, have yet to start treatment.

This, despite the cabinet giving the antiretroviral rollout campaign the green light in November last year in an Aids programme described as one of the most comprehensive in the world.

One of the programme's aims was to have 50 000 Aids patients on antiretrovirals by March.

The only province that was able to give feedback on the programme at the Treatment Action Campaign's national forum on Monday was the Western Cape.

According to Sue Roberts, head of the Aids clinic at Johannesburg's Helen Joseph Hospital, they had been ready to roll out treatment for some time.

"Most of the other large hospitals in Johannesburg are also ready. But we can't do anything without the drugs," she said.

Refused to accept sloppiness

It is believed, however, that hospitals such as Helen Joseph will get the drugs only in April as the government has not yet finalised a tender for the medication.

But, Western Cape hospitals refused to accept sloppiness on the part of the national health department and secured their medication. They already are treating 1 300 patients.

Dr Fareed Abullah, who heads the Aids initiative in the Western Cape, said that by next year they hoped to have 45 treatment centres in operation and all would provide free antiretroviral therapy.

Programmes here have been funded mostly through donations until now, however. But, more and more drugs are being bought with money from the provincial government.

More than 800 patients in the Western Cape are being treated through the organisation Doctors Without Borders (Medicines sans Frontieres) in Khayelitsha.

Those who are taken on in April, will be treated by the government, said Marta Darder of MSF.

Groote Schuur Hospital also has a big clinic. It treats 196 children and 30 mothers. It also provides treatment for 25 children and 30 mothers at Victoria Hospital.

Dr Paul Roux, who heads up the clinic, said their programme was funded largely through a British charity organisation. He said he hoped the state would also help with funding in the future.

Creative ways with little cash

Another institution with a clinic in place is Tygerberg Hospital, where they treat about 140 children and 100 adults for free. Their funding comes mainly from private donations.

Tygerberg also hopes more patients will get treatment through the government's campaign.

According to Nathan Geffen, national director of TAC, it was unclear why the national department of health did not find a temporary way to provide Aids drugs while they finalised long-term plans.

He said the Western Cape had been able to find a creative way of resolving the issue with the little money available. He questioned why the rest of the country did not do the same.




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