In preventing the spread of HIV, STIs and TB infections and to mitigate the impact of the dual HIV and TB epidemics in society, the Department of Health (DoH) has developed a National Strategic Plan (NSP) that will shape the department activities for the next 5 years [2012 -2016], with regards to the handling of these diseases.
The strategic plan builds on the progressive achievements of the previous strategic plan, which among others has made provisions to provide ARVs to more than a million people infected with HIV, and has also set course for early ART initiation of patients with CD4+ count of 350. What highlights this plan among others is the fact that the DoH has adopted it as a plan of action that will treat the epidemics as a state of emergency; the plan includes putting measures in place for everyone to know their HIV status and also have everyone screened for TB.
The integration of TB, HIV and STIs is also a very interesting point of the current NSP. This should bring health workers and health professionals to integrate TB and HIV diagnosis and treatment at primary health care. This will ultimately ensure that TB patients who are also infected with HIV are initiated early for ART despite their CD4 count. This will hopefully reduce the number of preventable deaths and will also help to fight the stigma associated with people living with HIV and TB.
The DoH has invited, in April 2012, many of the top researchers and public health officials to a summit in Johannesburg in order to discuss research priorities for HIV & TB as part of the current NSP. This was a very interesting meeting which SATuRN was present at it. In this meeting, reseach priorities for the next five years were identified and ranked. HIV & TB drug resistance ranked high in the priority list.
The DoH has called on all sectors of society, organisations and individuals to collaborate in the implementation of this strategic plan. SATuRN supports this initiative and is already in talks with the department to find better solutions to the growing threat of HIV drug resistance. One of the major objectives outlined by the NSP is sustaining the health and wellness of patients on ART.
SATuRN strongly believes that HIV drug failure is an emergency which has dire consequences on the well being of the patients and also to the patients clinical management. HIV drug resistance may soon undermine the success of the scale-up of ARVs by the DoH, in that way SATuRN will continue making efforts to collaborate and work together with academic intitutions, funders and government in curbing this threat.
The Department does not only set the agenda, but has adopted a bottom-up approach which opens new grounds for participation by communities and private organisations. This is the perfect moment/opportunity for the scientific community to merge its strengths with the economical, sociological, and behavioural communities in order to implement comprehensive interventions to minimize the burden of the HIV/AIDS and TB epidemics in South Africa.