South Africa has started implementing a major national HIV test and treat programme, a landmark development in combating HIV/Aids. Every HIV positive person will be put on treatment regardless of their CD4 count, a measure of the condition of the immune system.

Prior to this programme, only HIV positive people with a CD4 count below 500 were put on treatment.

In May, the country’s treasury allocated R1-billion to fund the universal test and treat programme, as part of government’s plan to increase life expectancy to 70 years by 2030 and have an AIDS-free generation of under 20’s.

In 2013, there were 330,000 new HIV infections in South Africa Photo: Anpei
In 2013, there were 330,000 new HIV infections in South Africa Photo: Anpei

Aaron Motsoaledi, the Health Minister has said the new measure of removing CD4 count as an eligibility criteria for ARV treatment is based on World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines, which were adopted in 2015. The guidelines are premised on findings that treating people with HIV as early as possible improves their health and prolongs their life.

The national antiretroviral therapy programme rolled out in 2004 has been a success, and according to statistics, life expectancy has steadily increased from 53.4 in 2004 to 62.5 in 2015.

South Africa has the largest antiretroviral therapy programme in the world, and the programme which now extends treatment to all people living with HIV has been welcomed and applauded.