There has been a 100% increase in the number of patients on antiretroviral treatment at City clinics in the last five years and HIV testing is exceeding set targets, but many challenges remain this World Aids Day. Read more below:
The City of Cape Town has continued to make significant strides in the last five years in scaling up the availability of antiretroviral treatment (ART) to HIV positive patients.
Around 1 in 20 people living in Cape Town are HIV positive*. Without ART, infection with HIV causes a gradual decline in the function of the immune system which leads to higher rates of opportunistic infections such as tuberculosis, cancers such as Kaposi’s sarcoma, and early death. However, effective treatment with ART leads to suppression of HIV and recovery of the immune system, reducing the risk of opportunistic illnesses and prolonging survival. Recent scientific evidence has also shown that ART drastically reduces the risk of transmitting HIV to sexual partners.
The City, in partnership with the Western Cape Government Department of Health, has played an integral role in the provision of ART since it was first rolled out in 2004, and in the last five years has significantly stepped up its efforts to both initiate and maintain patients on ART. In July 2012, there were 28 781 patients on ART at City health facilities. As of June 2017, this had grown to 57 862, which represents an increase of 101%.There are several factors contributing to this impressive growth: policy changes from the National Department of Health which have led to more and more patients becoming eligible for ART; a doubling in the number of City facilities that offer ART; and the scaling up of antiretroviral clubs (currently 50% of all patients on ART at City facilities) which allow patients to access care efficiently, reducing waiting time and clinic congestion.
‘This is an achievement worth celebrating ahead of World Aids Day tomorrow. It’s proof of what is possible through collective effort and when people take accountability for their health and well-being. I also want to commend the staff and our non-governmental organisation partners who work very hard under sometimes trying circumstances to provide crucial services to communities.
‘That said, there are still many challenges. Chief among these is that we are struggling to reach adolescents and men. Of all the tests in the public sector in the city over the last number of years, men make up only about one-third. They also account for only about one-third of patients starting ART. We have to address this if we are to continue making meaningful progress in the fight against HIV,’ said the City’s Mayoral Committee Member for Safety and Security; and Social Services, Alderman JP Smith.
The City encourages every resident to know their HIV status by testing at least every 12 months and, if HIV positive, to take ART consistently. HIV testing services are freely available at every City health facility, with ART at 38 of these facilities. As part of our commitment to service delivery and in line with the Organisational Development Transformation Plan, City Health is in the process of expanding its ART footprint.
*Human Sciences Research Council: South African National HIV Prevalence, Incidence and Behaviour Survey, 2012