In a move that United Nations officials say is the biggest and fastest expansion of AIDS services ever attempted, South Africa is opening up a new front in its response to HIV. In the past month, some 500 hospitals and clinics have begun dispensing antiretroviral drugs, and the government has trained hundreds of nurses to prescribe the drugs, work that was formerly the domain of doctors, the New York Times reported yesterday. The plan is to train enough nurses so that all of South Africa’s 4,333 health clinics will be able to dispense antiretroviral medicines.
South Africa is home to an estimated 5.7 million HIV-positive people, the largest number in the world. More than half of South Africans living with HIV are women, and 20 percent of pregnant women accessing public health services in 2008 tested positive for HIV. South Africa also has a high rate of sexual and domestic violence toward women, which increases women’s vulnerability to HIV infection.
Since 1998, EngenderHealth has worked in South Africa to transform men’s attitudes and behaviors to reduce gender-based violence and HIV infection rates. We have also introduced innovative approaches for improving men’s access to HIV counseling and testing and care and treatment services. We applaud South Africa’s increased efforts to respond to HIV and the campaign that was kicked off on Sunday to test 15 million of the country’s 49 million citizens for the virus by next June. We also know from our experiences in places where doctors are scarce that properly trained nurses and midwives can offer high-quality health care.
Read more about EngenderHealth’s work to train nonphysicians to perform male circumcision in Kenya.