HIV pregnancy, stigma and ignorance

For many women, pregnancy is a time of anticipation and celebration, but for those living positively it can be frustrating when their status and not their pregnancy takes centre stage. Being pregnant and positive often comes with its own brand of stigma. In a study among HIV-positive women in the United States, released at the international AIDS conference in Mexico in 2008, about half the respondents thought HIV-positive women could have children if they received appropriate care. But roughly the same number said they felt society strongly discouraged them from doing so, revealing what researchers said was a dichotomy between the women's views about their bodies and society's.

A steady erosion

HIV is thought to have a kill rate of close to 100%, higher than even the notorious haemorrhagic diseases such as Ebola. But, unlike such virulent attackers, HIV kills its hosts through a steadily attrition of the immune system, giving ample time for new infections to occur. The result is a slow-burning epidemic steadily destroying lives and eroding South Africa's development potential. HIV/AIDS was regarded as effectively untreatable in South Africa. The drugs were too expensive: Supreme Court of Appeal Judge Edwin Cameron had to have financial help to afford the antiretrovirals that have now kept him alive for so many years. Effectively, antiretroviral therapy (ART) was seen as something for the wealthy elite - and, so the argument went, even if it were affordable, then poor and unsophisticated people were unlikely to be able to take it properly.

On the way down

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a country in possession of economic growth will find the health of its citizens improving. But almost uniquely, South Africa's growing financial strength has been accompanied by a fall in key indicators of health. The tie between health and wealth has held true for most of the world, and for as long as there appear to have been economists to notice it. Wealthier countries tend to be healthier at least until they start to encounter the diseases of affluence such as obesity. In South Africa, and some other surrounding countries, this link has broken. South Africa's Gross Domestic Product per capita has increased by an average of 3% per year for the last decade. Yet the most obvious indicators of health are falling. The easiest way to get snapshot of a nation's health is to look at key indicators: life expectancy at birth, maternal mortality and infant mortality. These are such fundamental markers that they were written into the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which South Africa signed in 2000.

Miners face huge HIV challenge

By virtue of the physical nature of their jobs, South African miners receiving treatment for HIV and AIDS are vulnerable to discrimination when they are not at peak performance, because of the drugs' side-effects. This is one of the challenges that workers in the mining sector deal with, as HIV rips through the industry. Benchmarks Foundation estimates that about 16 to 30 percent of mineworkers are HIV-positive, a problem which, according to experts, has yet to receive adequate attention.

Reduced queues, improved maternal health among GPG achievements

The Chronic Medication Distribution Project, which was launched to reduce long queues at clinics and improve maternal and child health, are amongst the achievements the Gauteng Provincial Government can boast about. This is according to MEC for Health Brian Hlongwa, who on Tuesday reflected on the departments achievements over the past six months.

Zimbabwe: New government gives HIV-positive people hope

AIDS activists are hoping that the country's new administration will make good on promises to urgently improve access to affordable HIV/AIDS treatment and services at state hospitals. The country's three political parties - ZANU-PF and the two factions of the majority Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) - signed a power-sharing deal on 15 September, ending one of the worst periods of inter-party political violence since Zimbabwe gained independence in 1980. Despite scepticism that the three parties will be able to work together, the deal has brought hope to many ordinary Zimbabweans, particularly those living with HIV, who have been battling to cope in the current harsh economic and political environment. Of the estimated 320,000 people in need of antiretroviral (ARV) treatment, only about 100,000 are accessing the medication at public health facilities. Besides the treatment gap, government hospitals are struggling to deliver services in the face of shortages of drugs, medical staff and foreign currency.

TB breakthrough a challenge to government

South African researchers have shown that deaths among people co-infected with HIV and TB could be more than halved by starting antiretroviral therapy earlier, adding further pressure on government to improve treatment for both diseases. If the government adapts its treatment guidelines in line with the findings -- which were so dramatic that the clinical trial was stopped early on ethical grounds -- it will mean starting 150 000 people living with TB on anti-HIV medicine much earlier than has been planned, and budgeted, for. Professor Salim Abdool Karim, who headed the study, said the research indicated that up to 10 000 lives a year could be saved if people with TB were given antiretrovirals at the beginning of the TB treatment if they had a CD4 count of less than 500. Currently the guidelines are for HIV-positive people to start ARVs when their CD4 count drops to 200, or when this is clinically indicated.

New health minister has work cut out for her

South Africa's newly appointed health minister, Barbara Hogan, has inherited an unenviable to-do list from outgoing minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, but AIDS activists are optimistic that she is up to the job.Hogan has no background in health, but has been a member of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) since 1977 and a member of parliament since 1994. She is known for being outspoken on sensitive issues, including HIV and AIDS. According to Zackie Achmat, a prominent AIDS activist and former chairperson of AIDS lobby group, the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), Hogan was one of the few members of parliament to speak out against AIDS denialism - the controversial view that HIV is not the cause of AIDS, allegedly held by former President Thabo Mbeki.

Lack of medical workers plagues developing countries

When her baby turned blue, Nivetha Biju rushed the child to the emergency room of an Indian hospital and watched helplessly as the baby lost consciousness because the nurses on duty had no idea what to do. Eventually a doctor saved the baby's life, but many patients are not so lucky in India and in other developing countries where a scarcity of doctors and trained nurses means there is often no helping hand in times of need. Health systems [in developing countries] are on the brink of collapse due to the lack of skilled personnel, said Ezekiel Nukuro, an official with the World Health Organization. In some countries, deaths from preventable diseases are rising and life expectancy is dropping, he said.

US relaxes visa rules for HIV positive travellers

United States immigration officials on Monday announced moves to ease and speed up visa-processing for HIV-positive visitors to the United States, months after a 21-year entry ban on people with the virus was lifted. Under the new rules, US consular offices overseas will have the authority to grant temporary, non-immigrant visas to HIV-positive applicants who meet all of the other normal criteria for the granting of a US visa, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said in a statement.