South Africa: Serious shortage in antirevtroviral funding

JOHANNESBURG, 19 June 2009 (PlusNews) - A one-billion rand (US$123 million) shortfall in South Africa's public sector antiretroviral (ARV) programme could jeopardise treatment programmes as soon as September, a health expert has warned.

Mark Heywood, deputy chairman of the South Africa National AIDS Council (SANAC), commented on the lack of funding at the relaunch of the national AIDS Charter on 18 June.

The charter written in 1992 became the founding document of the AIDS Consortium, one of the country's largest such organisations, which redrafted the charter to reflect progress in combating the disease, and close any remaining gaps in the human rights of those living with HIV. Among the additions were an increased focus on vulnerable groups, and the inclusion of traditional leaders and their role in the epidemic.

'We've made major strides, and one of the strengths of the charter was that it guided our progress on the national strategic framework at a time when people were still stoned to death ... when kids were still taken out of school and people were chased out of their homes for being HIV-positive,' Heywood told IRIN/PlusNews.

'But I'll tell you what we haven't achieved ... we don't actually have ARV treatment for most of the people who need it.' Given the major shortfall in funding, Heywood said, the country was likely to see ARV shortages similar to those in Free State Province last year.

In early November 2008, Free State experienced a shortage of essential medicines, including ARVs; a provincial moratorium barred new patients from getting the life-prolonging medication, resulting in a waiting list of over 15,000 people.

At public clinics in Edenvale, outside Pietermaritzburg in KwaZulu-Natal Province, there might be enough drugs currently, but staff shortages were preventing patients from accessing ARVs, Heywood said.

In view of situations like these, it was crucial that the newly launched charter be redrafted urgently to reflect people's right to sustained ARV access, as well as children's rights to adequate sex education and access to condoms.

An estimated 700,000 people are on treatment in South Africa, but an estimated 1,000 die daily as a result of AIDS. 'We don't actually have political commitment from government to deal with the epidemic,' Heywood said. 'As a chairperson of SANAC, I don't see it; I don't see the [necessary] urgency.'