CAPE TOWN - Believe that anti-retroviral treatment (ART) medication works and get yourself tested. People who are infected with the virus are able to live longer, healthier lives, provided they use their medication and seek treatment early enough. This was the key message Dr. Tulio de Oliveira, a bio-informatics researcher from SATuRN wanted to be convey to the general public.|
Oliveira said patients have added 50 years to their lives by just following this advice.
He spoke during a workshop on HIV drug resistance last Friday, attended by 130 clinicians from SA and as far afield as Zambia.
Delegates included nurses, virologists, medical students and doctors who are currently involved with patients on ART medication.
'A lot has happened with regard to the spread of HIV/Aids since it was first discovered at a blood bank in the mid-1980s in South Africa.
'Today, South Africa is the country with the largest HIV infection rate in the world.'
De Oliveira added that new reports have been released which confirm that 5-million South Africans are currently infected with the virus. The national prevalence is estimated at 28% in pregnant women.
He said that HIV infection rates started reaching epidemic status in the beginning of the 1990s, when it passed the 20% infection rate.
De Oliveira told TygerBurger that despite the country's shocking statistics, current drugs available decrease the circulation of the virus by 99% in an infected person.
He said most patients responded extremely well to treatment.
Compared to other examples abroad, a tendency for patients to become ART resistant has taken effect, but in SA, where the C-strain virus is prevalent, there is growing evidence that the C-strain virus responds rapidly to medication.
He said that the conference was an important opportunity to get the medical profession together to maintain the status quo.
'It is important for the medical profession to know exactly how to curb resistance, as it is not possible without proper medical treatment.'
About current challenges he said, 'Definitely, the apartheid history of having limited infrastructure in poorer and specifically rural areas, where clinics and hospitals still haven't been built, played a role.
This leads to problems in expanding treatment to all areas.
Also, training medical personnel and the subsequent cost, coupled with many medical professionals leaving the country, are the main challenges we face.
More good news is that government has started making ART medication more freely available in the private and public sector. This move makes it clear that there is a concerted effort to urgently react to the crisis.'
De Oliveira said it is also encouraging to know that 28 different types of drugs are available today. South Africans should draw their strength from the example of Brazil, which has the same level of economic development and who had the same levels of HIV/Aids in 1992. In 1992, free treatment was introduced, and the infection rate is now less than 1%.