Finance Minister Trevor Manuel gave a firm indication yesterday of government's commitment to combating HIV/AIDS, by almost doubling the amount available to fight the epidemic in the national budget.
In a carefully worded response to questions from the media, Manuel also indicated provision had been made in the budget for antiretroviral medicines should government decide to begin distributing the drugs in public healthcare facilities.
Government indicated its investigations of the feasibility and costing of such a programme were far advanced, and recommendations were nearly ready.
Spending on HIV/AIDS will increase to R1,9bn, from slightly more than R1bn last year and R348m the year before.
The funds will be spread across the health, education and welfare departments.
The bulk of the monies allocated will, however, be disbursed by the national and provincial health departments.
Manuel said the HIV/AIDS allocation would increase to R2,9bn in 2004-05 and R3,5bn in the following year.
The money would be used to extend preventive programmes and finance medically appropriate treatment for HIV/AIDS, Manuel said.
HIV/AIDS spending accounts for a large portion of provinces' health spending, but is not accounted for separately.
Grants to provinces under the banner of the R666m HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis programme include allocations for the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV, condom distribution, partnerships with nongovernmental organisations, and contributions to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria.
In total, health spending will increase 12% to R39,1bn.
The health budget has given special emphasis to service delivery this year, with R3,1bn set aside to improve provincial hospitals through the hospital revitalisation programme over the next three years.
This money will go towards rehabilitation of hospitals, the buying of new equipment and improving management.
The budget also makes a two-pronged attack on the thorny issue of attracting and retaining healthcare professionals in the public sector.
The rural allowance for doctors, specialists and dentists is to be increased significantly in 2003-04. The allowance will also be extended to a wider range of skilled personnel. At the same time, salaries for a range of health professionals are to be increased under the banner of the so-called Scarce Skills Strategy.
Policies for both these sets of incentives are being finalised by the departments of health and public service and administration in consultation with the Bargaining Council. (Source:
Business Day, 27 February 2003)