Deputy President David Mabuza says government has introduced routine testing for certain high-risk groups – those living with HIV and those diagnosed with TB in order to address a gap of patients lost due to COVID-19 interruptions.
The Deputy President said this when he responded to oral questions in the National Assembly on Wednesday.
“To address this gap, we have introduced routine testing, irrespective of symptoms for certain high-risk groups, People Living with HIV, contacts of all people diagnosed with TB and people who have been previously treated for TB in the past year.
“This is what we refer to as active case finding which is done to make sure that the spread of the disease is minimised at community level,” he said.
The Deputy President also said that the department is also running “Welcome Back to Care” campaigns that have been activated nationwide in order to bring back all those who were on HIV and TB treatment, but had treatment interruptions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This will ensure that patients with TB continue with their medication until they are no longer infectious, and indeed until they are cured.
“For HIV infected patients, getting back on medication will make their viral load suppressed which minimises the risk of viral transmission and spread of the virus.”
He said that a lot of these services, including testing and screening, are being offered at community centres, away from hospitals, and patients are even able to collect medication at pharmacy lockers or at their local retail pharmacy and spaza shop as part of the government’s Chronic Courier Medicine Dispensing and Distribution programme, if they do not wish to visit a health facility.
The Deputy President said, meanwhile, that between June and September 2020, the SA National Aids Council (SANAC) Trust held a series of country dialogues with critical stakeholders to ensure that the HIV, TB and STIs response was sustained, and called for the dual testing of COVID-19 and TB.
“This led to resource mobilisation from both PEPFAR and the Global Fund to invest in strengthening HIV and TB programming to mitigate the negative impact of COVID-19 on health services.
“The SANAC Inter-Ministerial Committee has since approved the integration of HIV/AIDS, TB and COVID-19 programmes, as well as the fast-tracking of HIV/AIDS and TB catch-up plans in order to make up for HIV/AIDS and TB client losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In addition, considering the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the achievement of both national and global targets, the SANAC Plenary resolved to extend the term of the current National Strategic Plan for HIV, TB and STIs, so that it ends in 2023, and not in 2022 as initially intended.
“This extension will allow all SANAC sectors some time to implement catch-up plans aimed at accelerating the provision of services towards the attainment of the set targets.”