Cape Town: The government’s massive scaling up of its anti-retroviral (ARV) treatment programme is beginning to show results, with a new report showing that South Africa’s life expectancy has increased by over three years in the last two years.
Briefing the National Assembly’s portfolio committee on health on his department’s 2011/12 annual report, the Department of Health’s acting director-general Yogan Pillay pointed to a report just released by the Medical Research Council that estimated that the country’s life expectancy, which stood at 56.5 years in 2009, had increased to 60 years in 2011 (57 years for men and 63 years for women).
Added to this, the under-five mortality rate had also fallen – from 56 deaths per 1 000 live births in 2009, to 42 deaths per 1 000 live births in 2011.
Pillay said these improvements showed that the department’s HIV/Aids and TB programmes were beginning to make an impact.
He pointed out that 50% of maternal mortality could be attributed to HIV/Aids, while 40% of mortality in children in under five was attributed to HIV/Aids.
In the last financial year, the number of new patients placed on ARVs increased by almost 50% – with 617 147 new patients placed on ARVs in the last financial year, compared to 418 677 in 2010/11.
This number could increase again, as Pillay said the department planned to soon move towards a one-tablet-a-day ARV treatment.
He said the significant increase in ARVs was also coupled with a testing campaign, which in the last financial year saw 9.6 million South Africans being tested for HIV.
The 9.6 million was about five times the number tested before the launch of the HIV Counselling and Testing campaign by President Jacob Zuma in April 2010, he said.
Since the launch of the campaign, 20.2 million people have been tested for HIV.
Pillay said with more people with HIV/Aids being on ARVs, people were living longer, pushing up the HIV prevalence rate – which has risen among antenatal attendees from 29.4% in 2009 to 30.2% in 2010.
Over this period the HIV prevalence rate for antenatal attendees had risen in seven of the nine provinces, while remaining unchanged in KwaZulu-Natal (at 30%) and declining in the North West (from 30% to 29.6%).
Pillay said the five districts which recorded the highest HIV prevalence rate in the country among antenatal attendees were all located in KwaZulu-Natal.
These districts are: uMgungundlovu and iLembe (both 42.3%), Umkhanyakude (41.9%), eThekwini (Durban) and Ugu (both 41.1%).
The number of districts recording HIV prevalence rates of between 30% and 40% increased from 14 out of 52 districts in 2009, to 21 districts in 2010.
The Central Karoo District, in the Western Cape, recorded the lowest HIV prevalence rate of 0.8%.
The Health Department was also backed by a database of HIV prevalence, which stretches back to 1990, providing the government and other stakeholders that ran HIV/Aids programmes with significant data which could provide feedback on whether their initiatives were working or not.
The department also distributed millions of condoms in the last financial year – over 6.3 million female condoms (exceeding the target of six million) and over 397 million male condoms.
However, the number of male condoms fell far short of the department’s target of distributing one billion condoms.
Pillay attributed this to service providers not being able to deliver the numbers specified in the tender as a result of a global latex shortage, delays in the registration of approved service providers in provinces and legal action initiated against the National Treasury.
The department had also been able to improve the TB cure rate – from curing 71.1% in 2009 to 73.1% of patients in 2010; however, this was still below the target of a 75% cure rate.
The department achieved its second unqualified opinion in the last three yeas, spending 99% of its 2011/12 budget.
Detailing over results in the department’s annual report, Pillay said a national immunisation coverage rate of 95.2% was achieved for children under a year old, exceeding the target of 95%.
In all, 59.6% of mothers and 57.8% of babies received post-natal care within six days after delivery, against a 60% target for both.
When it came to births, 89.3% of deliveries (just below the 90% target) took place in health facilities, under the supervision of nurses and doctors.
Pillay said 337 ward-based primary health-care teams were set up in the last financial year, exceeding the target of 54 teams.
To improve training, 80 medical students, drawn from various provinces, were sent to Cuba in the last financial year.
The department had also commenced the development of norms and standards for the Health Workforce for Primary Health Care and Secondary Health Care strategy, which was launched last year.
However, only 40% of complaints from users of public health services were resolved within 25 days and Pillay said a database of complaints had been set up, which allowed for more effective monitoring of the progress of complaints.