In South Africa, much of the battle against HIV/AIDS takes place in rural areas, where up until recently anti-retroviral drugs were not available. Much of the care for AIDS patients was simply to make them comfortable or try to get them some food.
One of the groups that’s been battling the pandemic in KwaZulu-Natal Province is the Philanjalo Home Based Care Program. It’s located in the rural town of Tugela Ferry. Dr. Tony Moll runs the program. English to Africa’s Joe De Capua spoke with him several years ago about HIV/AIDS. Thursday, he asked Dr. Moll for an update on whether the fight against AIDS has made any progress.
“I do remember the last chat we had a couple of years ago on the Voice of America and things were certainly bleak then. At that time, we had nothing in our hands to treat our HIV patients with. We were in a situation where we were just watching the natural course of the disease and doing what we can in terms of palliative care and supporting the family and managing opportunistic infections. That has turned around. Since March 2004, we have had available to us for the very first time anti-retroviral therapy, which we got through the government and were able to treat our patients free of charge," he says.
Dr. Moll says the drugs brought major changes in the health of patients. “For the very first time, we could see the disease turn around. And individual patients who were on the medication you could see dramatic differences and changes in weight gain and improvement.”
However, the HIV/AIDS pandemic marches on in KwaZulu-Natal. He says, “The epidemic itself has not really quieted down in any way. The epidemic is still raging on, causing havoc in the community. And just to put it in perspective, we probably have about 12,000 patients with HIV in our direct community. And we only have about 700 to 800 of them now on therapy. So, in a way we’re just touching the surface of it.”
According to Dr. Moll, many of the AIDS cases he’s seeing today are among people infected 10 to 15 years ago. The effectiveness of current efforts at behavior change and prevention, he says, may not be known for another 10 years.
Dr. Moll adds he can now get a plentiful supply of anti-retroviral drugs for his rural patients, but the problem is he doesn’t have the necessary staff to administer them to all who need it.