Strike hits at heart of Aids epidemic

2010-09-05 10:08

Thousands of people living with HIV/Aids are at risk of developing resistance to Aids drugs as a result of defaulting on treatment because of the public servants’ strike.

The strike has ­crippled the public health ­system in the last three weeks.

Aids activists warn that this may lead to a rise in deaths as people’s immune systems deteriorate due to their bodies not ­responding to drugs.

Many antiretroviral (ARV) clinics have stopped functioning. The shutdown meant that ­patients who ran out of ARV ­drugs could not get more. The process of getting new patients onto the government’s ARV programme has also stalled.

There are also fears that the strike may lead to an outbreak of extreme?drug-resistant?tuberculosis (XDR-TB).

There are few facilities that are able to treat patients afflicted with the drug-resistant strain of the disease.

South Africa currently has the largest ARV programme in the world, with more than 500 000 people receiving ARVs.

It is feared that the strike will cause a ­major setback in the battle against the disease.

Sello Mokhalipi of the Treatment Action Campaign says: “Everything has come to a standstill. There is no treatment as a result of the strike.

“Even if people have the ­money to buy the drugs over the counter they won’t be able to do so because they need a prescription from a doctor and those ­people are on strike.

“Some people’s bodies deteriorate fast. They will die if the strike continues and when the situation gets back to normal those people who defaulted on treatment will need to have their CD4 count and viral load ­assessed before they can start treatment again, and this, in turn, will lead to further delays,” Mokhalipi says.

“This would also mean that people might need to be changed to new ARV regimens which will cost the state a lot of money.

“But the reality is that people will develop drug resistance. People are on the way to their graves,” he says.

Nkululeko Nxesi of the National Association for People Living With HIV/Aids says the full effect of the strike would be felt in the “next five months”.

“The reality is that people will definitely develop drug resistance. When people go to clinics and find that there are no nurses they go back home and because they are poor they stay without treatment,” says Nxesi.

He adds that the strike has also affected at least one million Aids orphans who are on the government’s ­nutrition and feeding programme.

“The children receive meals and treatment through this ­programme and as a result of the strike they are not receiving any. It’s a crisis,” he says.

Nthabeleng Makatu (28) of Mangaung ran out of ARVs two weeks ago and has not been able to get more drugs at Pelonomi Hospital since the strike began.

“I’ve been to the hospital many times since the strike began and I have always come back with nothing because there are no nurses there. I am very worried because I have not taken my ARVs for two weeks,” she says.

Gladys Ndlovu (54) of Boksburg in Ekurhuleni had a three-day supply of drugs left when City Press interviewed her this week.

Ndlovu says she went to Boksburg Hospital hoping to get medication for her swollen feet but was turned away as there were no doctors on duty.

“I usually get pills for these troublesome legs, but now I’m only relying on water and I am worried I could be in trouble if the strike does not end because my pills will be finished soon.”

Nxesi says the situation may lead to a flood of civil suits against the state.

“People have the right to ­access medicine and if they say their rights were violated as a ­result of the strike they may have grounds to institute legal action against the state.”

Health ministry spokesperson Fidel Hadebe says they have set up hotlines to assist people who require chronic medication for diseases such as HIV/Aids, diabetes, TB and hypertension.

Hadebe says people can call the numbers to find out which ­institutions in their areas can help in supplying medicine.

He says patients can access medication in special rooms at police stations, and in rural areas mobile clinics run by nurses have been set up.

“We are dealing with an ­abnormal situation and what is important to us is that South ­Africans are able to exercise their right to access to healthcare,” he says.

»?Those unable to get their ­medication can call the National Aids Council hotline on 012?312?6184

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