Govt probes HIV funding

The government was looking into whether it would run out of funding for HIV/Aids drugs in this financial year, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said on Friday.

"We are reviewing whether there is a possibility of some provinces running out of funds... after getting a report we will find out if it's true that there is a gap," Motsoaledi said following an SA National Aids Council (Sanac) plenary meeting.

It was the first plenary meeting attended by Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe in his capacity as Sanac chairman.

Funding HIV/Aids drugs emerged as a problem this year when the Free State experienced a shortage of antiretrovirals. The shortage was attributed mainly to over-expenditure by the provincial health department.

Motsoaledi said his department had "sensitised the Treasury" on the funding matter. Government hoped to slash HIV infections to half by 2011, an "ambitious" target, Motsoaledi said.

5 million infected in SA
In 2008, just over five million South Africans were infected with the virus.

During the meeting, Sanac noted that commercial sex workers were vulnerable to sexual abuse and violence making it difficult to protect themselves from HIV infection. "It was in this context that sectors were requested to consult on this matter with specific reference to the possibility of the decriminalisation of sex workers," Motlanthe said.

Decriminalising sex work to protect women has been raised by various government departments ahead of the 2010 Fifa World Cup when demand for the services of prostitutes might increase.

Sanac resolved to invite sex workers to its next plenary meeting to discuss their problems. Motsoaledi said decriminalising sex work was a very involved issue and Sanac had not arrived at a decision on whether it supported it.

"The issue is very emotive in terms of morals and culture... We took a decision that in the next plenary... we want the sex workers to be here," Motsoaledi said. Government had not arrived at a conclusion on decriminalising sex work, he said.

Effects of World Cup
Sanac also looked at the effects of the World Cup on HIV infection rates and whether a downside of the sporting spectacular would be a rise in HIV infections.

"The sports and entertainment sector of Sanac will convene a summit on September 1 to consider how we will use the Fifa World Cup in 2010 to focus on HIV and Aids and to ensure that the event does not itself result in increased transmissions," Motlanthe said.

Sanac chairman Mark Heywood, speaking on the sidelines of the media briefing, seemed pleased with the meeting's progress. "It's a different Sanac from the days of Manto," he said. The former health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang and the administration of former president Thabo Mbeki were criticised for their response to the Aids pandemic. This saw government often at loggerheads with non-governmental organisations such as the Aids Law Project and the Treatment Action Campaign. – (Sapa, July 2009)

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