ABOUT 70 000 people are on ARVs in Mpumalanga, MEC for health Dikeledi Mahlangu said when she unveiled the Xstrata Alloys PPM project.

HIV-Aids remains a very serious challenge to the health sector, especially in the communities that rely on public health services.

Most of these service centres are undergoing renovations in order to cope with the need for Antiretrovirals (ARVs) to assist people living with HIV-Aids.

Mpumalanga MEC for health Dikeledi Mahlangu says the status quo for the HIV-Aids prevalence in the province is 35 percent, with the Gert Sibande district remaining the highest of the three with a 40,5 percent prevalence followed by Ehlanzeni district with 35,5 percent and Nkangala with 31,9 percent.

Mahlangu told Sowetan she couldn't give the prevalence breakdown on gender since the figure was based on the antenatal survey targeting pregnant women.

About treatment access Mahlangu said there was a great improvement as 70000 people were on ARVs by March and the number would rise to 102000 during the 2010-11 financial year.

"The government aims to have at least 10 percent of children accessing ARVs. We currently have 34 sites rolling out the treatment and will increase the number to more than 100 this financial year.

"This will be achieved as we no longer accredit facilities but now do readiness assessment.

"This means that treatment will be more accessible than before as primary healthcare facilities have started to provide ARVs," Mahlangu said.

Asked about the prevention of mother-to-child transmission programme (PMTCT) Mahlangu said there was a gradual improvement but that early bookings by pregnant women remained a challenge.

She said the process followed once a pregnant woman had tested HIV positive was that she would undergo a CD4 count to check if she was medically eligible for ARVs.

"The mother is enrolled in the PMTCT programme. According to the new policy once the CD4 count of the pregnant woman is 350 and less, she is referred for ARV initiation," Mahlangu said.

Mahlangu said HIV-Aids campaigns were conducted throughout the province in the entire sub-districts "though sometimes priorities are informed by the prevalence rates in each sub-district".

She said all health facilities, government, private and community-based, were involved in conducting these campaigns.

Asked what the government was doing to make sure there would be no new infections of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases during the Fifa World Cup, Mahlangu said the intention of the government was to reduce new infections. But she emphasised that this was a a challenge since the country had no programmes of monitoring new infections.

"But we have programmes in place to ensure that new infections are reduced through the provision of both male and female condoms at all strategic points. We also do health promotion and distribution of information through education and communication materials," Mahlangu explained.

She confirmed that the government was embarking on various campaigns including the massive HIV counselling and testing campaign (HCT) which started on April 1 and ends on June 30 next year at all health facilities.

"During the HCT campaign, more than one million people - especially between the ages of 15 to 64 - are targeted to test and know their HIV status. This campaign is supported by various local social mobilization campaigns and other ongoing campaigns that feature on the health calendar," Mahlangu said.

Mahlangu and Mpumalanga Premier David Mabuza were among the first leaders in government to test voluntarily for HIV during the launch of the HCT in the province.

The social mobilisation campaigns she referred to were the STI Condom week from 8 to 14 February, the Human Rights Day on March 21, World TB Day on March 24, World Health Day on April 7, Africa Malaria Day on April 25, Freedom Day on April 27, Youth Day on June 16, Fifa Soccer World Cup between June 11 and July 11, Women's Day on August 9th, International Men's Day on November 19, 16 Days of Activism from November 25, World AIDS Day on December 1, Disability Day on December 3 and the International Volunteers Day on December 5.

"Over and above all these campaigns the following HIV specific campaigns are conducted by the department as a response to HIV and AIDS.

"They are: prevention of mother to child transmission, sexual transmitted infections, post exposure prophylaxis for sexual assault and occupational injuries, HIV and nutrition, positive living and treatment adherence."