Aids patients are not being treated in the country with the most people infected with HIV because of a nation-wide public sector workers’ strike in South Africa.
An HIV and Aids clinic at Johannesburg hospital usually sees 60 to 80 patients every day, but that has dropped to 20 to 30 since the strike started a week ago, says a doctor there. Patients might think the government hospital has been closed down by the strike. Or they may be scared of getting caught up in the violence that has flared between police and health workers on the picket line, said Dr Ashraf Coovadia who works at the non-striking government hospital in the major city. He said yesterday (Wednesday) his staff is calling patients who have nearly run out of Aids drugs to come in. The drugs are usually dispensed in amounts that are supposed to last three months. He said he has had to negotiate with strikers and security guards to make sure that patients can get into the clinic safely. "The situation is quite volatile," he said.
In the short term, Aids patients who miss a few days of medication can develop drug resistance, which makes future treatment difficult. "This is affecting hundreds of thousands of patients across the country," Coovadia told the Associated Press news agency. South Africa has more people infected with HIV, the virus that causes Aids, than any other country in the world. The health workers’ union said it had planned before the strike, for skeleton staff to care for South Africans with Aids and other critical patients, including those needing emergency treatment. But relations with the government have deteriorated so badly that it is hard to keep members away from the picket lines, said spokesman, Sizwe PamlaMr Pamla said the government could solve the crisis by granting workers’ demands for an 8.6 per cent pay rise and a housing allowance. But the government is offering a seven per cent increase, and says it can’t afford to offer more."This country has got millions of people with HIV who need care," Mr Pamla said. "It's sad that we are sitting here blaming each other."
Patients arrived at a poor overcrowded central Johannesburg community health centre, to find the doors closed and hallways darkened Wednesday. Local politician, Jack Bloom, said trouble at Hillbrow Community Health Centre Hillbrow started when strikers forced a doctor to stop treating patients last week. He said Hillbrow was one of the busiest Aids clinics in the country.In countryside areas, poor patients who have to save up to buy their tickets for long journeys to clinics are arriving to find them closed, said Marige Versteeg of the Rural Doctors of Southern Africa organization. "For rural patients, it's quite a disaster," she said.