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Unitaid and the South African government partner together to accelerate HIV and TB prevention and treatment efforts.

Pretoria, 23 March 2018 – Unitaid and South Africa’s National Department of Health have launched a partnership to accelerate efforts to prevent and treat HIV and tuberculosis in the country. South Africa is home to the biggest HIV/AIDS epidemic and one of the highest TB burdens worldwide.

The joint endeavour will introduce HIV self-screening, expand access to HIV prevention for adolescent girls and young women (PrEP) at high risk of HIV infection, and to TB preventive therapy for people living with HIV and children under the age of five. It will also support the development of better first-line HIV treatment, and efforts to find better and shorter treatment for multidrug-resistant TB.

"We are very excited to partner with the South African government to accelerate the introduction of health innovations to prevent, diagnose and treat HIV and TB," said Lelio Marmora, Unitaid’s Executive Director. "Through this partnership, we hope to boost HIV testing efforts, particularly among adolescent girls, young women, and men, and ensure they have access to treatment."

South Africa is at the forefront of the global AIDS response and has made huge improvements in getting people to test for HIV in recent years. Although it has the world’s largest HIV treatment programme, challenges remain in preventing new infections and reaching the one million people living with HIV who do not know their status.

HIV self-screening is a new cost-effective way of testing hard-to-reach populations for HIV, including young people, men, female sex workers and men who have sex with men. Through its HIV Self-Testing Africa (STAR) project, Unitaid is helping to close the testing gap in six countries in eastern and southern Africa, including South Africa. It is working with the health department and its implementing partners – Society for Family Health, the Clinton Health Access Initiative, the Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute and Population Services International – to ensure that HIV self-screening is included in the national HIV programme.

In 2017, the South African government began offering PrEP. Unitaid is working closely with the health department and the Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute to generate critical evidence on how to best deliver Pre-exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) - a highly effective daily pill to prevent HIV – to adolescent girls and young women.

TB is the leading infectious disease killer globally and the leading cause of death in South Africa. It is estimated that about 80% of South Africans are infected with TB bacteria, the vast majority of whom have latent TB1 rather than active TB disease. People living with HIV are 20 to 30 times more likely to develop active TB disease than people not infected with HIV.

South Africa’s health department has made TB prevention therapy among high-risk populations, including people living with HIV, and treatment for multidrug-resistant TB a key priority in its efforts to end TB.

Unitaid is funding The Aurum Institute to scale up access to affordable short-course preventive therapy for TB, known as 3HP, for people living with HIV and children under age five in 12 countries, including South Africa. The project seeks to establish 3HP as an affordable, less-toxic therapy suitable for wide introduction in countries most affected by TB.

The Expand new drug markets for TB (endTB) project, implemented by Partners in Health, Médecins Sans Frontières and Interactive Research and Development, supports the introduction of the first new drugs for drug-resistant TB in nearly half a century in 17 countries, including South Africa.

"These new HIV and TB prevention technologies could have a major impact on the trajectory of the HIV and TB epidemics in South Africa," said Aaron Motsoaledi, South Africa’s Minister of Health. "We are delighted to be working with Unitaid as we aim to reach the Sustainable Development Goal targets of ending TB and HIV by 2030."

The partnership announcement was made on the eve of World TB Day during a partners meeting organized by Unitaid on innovations to prevent, diagnose and treat HIV and TB in South Africa. The total Unitaid investment committed under this multi-year partnership is over US$ 50 million.