South Africa has only 0.7% of the world population but carries 17% of its HIV/Aids burden, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said on Tuesday.
A total of 35% of child mortality and 43% of maternal mortality were attributable to HIV/Aids, he said.
One in every three pregnant women presenting at antenatal clinics was HIV positive.
Extraordinary measures required
"Surely this needs very serious and extraordinary measures. Hence the announcement of the President on World Aids day in Dec 2009 has come as a big relief to those given the responsibility of fighting this illness," he said.
These measures, of starting antiretroviral treatments (ARVs) when the CD4 count was 350 or less in pregnant women and HIV/TB co-infected people, of starting prevention of mother to child transmission (PMTCT) at 14 rather than 28 weeks, and of treating HIV positive newborns regardless of CD4 count had gone a long way in reversing the tide of HIV/Aids.
"We started these measures in April 2010. We are looking forward to a day, not far away, when commencing the treatment at CD4 count of 350 will be universal and not only for specific target groups.
"This is imperative in the light of new research released recently that starting ARVs very early has given huge benefits for the prevention of HIV and protecting individuals against TB," Motsoaledi said.
More people getting ARVs
Before these new measures were implemented at the end of February 2010, only 490 health centres were able to provide ARVs as accredited ART service points.
The figure has grown to 2,205 health care centres providing ARV. This has increased access to treatment in a manner unimagined just over a year ago.
"Our target is that all 4,000 health outlets should be accredited as ARV centres by the end of the year."
Only 250 nurses were certified to provide ARVs, while now 2,000 nurses were certified, further increasing access.
"Our target is over 4,000 nurses to be certified by the end of the year."
More people being tested
Before the HCT campaign launched by the President on 25 April 2010 at Natalspruit Hospital, only two million South Africans were testing annually.
Since the launch of the campaign only a year ago already 11.9 million South Africans have tested and the figure is growing every month.
Many South Africans want to know their status.
"Before the campaign at end of February 2010, we had 923,000 people on ARV treatment and now due to the campaign and the increase in access made possible by the expansion, programs have measured that more than 1.4 million people are now on treatment.
"We have been able to reduce the prices of ARVs by 53%. The significance of this is that we can expand coverage of treatment and put more patients on treatment."
Over the next few days, at the HIV conference in Durban, the MRC researchers will release figures showing that there has been a reduction of transmission of HIV/Aids from mother to child by six weeks post delivery.
"It reveals that a reduction of 50% transmission has been achieved and of note is the significant reduction in KZN as a result of an effective PMTCT programme.
"This is to be celebrated because it is the first sign that by 2015 we may have eliminated the phenomenon of mother to child transmission of HIV," Motsoaledi said. - (Sapa, June 2011)