anti-retroviral_drugsSouth Africa is home to the world’s largest population of people living with HIV, approximately 5.5 million people as estimated in 2010. In 2004 the NDOH – National Department of Health – introduced the public antiretroviral treatment programme (ART programme) and by the end of 2011 there were approximately 1.7 million patients on treatment.

Antiretroviral therapy (ART) consists of the use of at least three antiretroviral drugs to maximally suppress HIV, the virus, and stop or slow the progression of HIV disease. On November 29th, National Minister of Health Aaron Motsoaledi announced the proposition for a fixed dose combination (one drug tablet) of antiretrovirals. This was approved. “This in simple language means that a patient does not have to take three tablets twice a day and can now take one tablet once a day,” explained Motsoaledi in the press release.

This change is expected to take effect on April 1st, 2013. This exciting announcement will revolutionise the way patients take their treatment. It is more important than ever to have a well-articulated communication strategy to inform patients of the changes in the standard first line regimen and that 1 tablet once a day has been done to make it easier for them to take their tablets. Patients will have to be assured they will continue to receive a high quality of care with the new tablets, understand this won’t have an effect on their health, and that it is a decision to decrease their pill burden and effectively improve their quality of life.

CHAI – Clinton Health Access Initiative, an arm of the Clinton Foundation – is a trusted adviser to governments, helping them transform the way they provide health care to their people. CHAI directly supports the NDOH activities in South Africa and has staff supporting the NDOH with drug procurement, maternal and child health, HIV/AIDS programming, monitoring and evaluation, HIV counselling, laboratory management, and immunisation. CHAI assisted with the drug procurement tender and would be well placed to advise with the communications strategy alongside the NDOH counterparts and other members of civil society.

The NDOH and CHAI have asked for TIE to help hone the communications post launch, based on collected learnings. They are looking for help from a strategic communications person to help provide a better sense of what is working from a communications point of view, what is not working and where to focus energies. At this stage they don’t know what will go horribly wrong with the campaign, what will be working and how people will have adjusted to the new regime. They need help knowing how they can improve their communications to date, and where they can strengthen the messages.