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South Africans may soon get antidepressants from a nurse

  • The health department plans to train professional nurses to prescribe pills for mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression, according to the government’s new five-year (2023-2028) action plan for HIV, tuberculosis (TB) and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Mental health disorders make it easier for people to get infected with HIV and TB and harder to keep taking their medicine regularly.

  • Currently, professional nurses cannot legally prescribe psychiatric medicines in South Africa, so Health Minister Joe Phaahla will have to change the country’s nursing laws before this plan can become a reality.

  • But the HIV plan is short of more than R7.2-billion to achieve its goals by 2028. Meanwhile, international donors such as the US government’s Aids fund, Pepfar, have already indicated that they’d be decreasing their contributions in the near future.

South Africans may soon get antidepressants from a nurse
South Africans may soon get antidepressants from a nurse

Professional nurses may soon be trained to prescribe pills for mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety (under the supervision of a doctor), according to South Africa’s new five-year (2023-2028) action plan for HIV, tuberculosis (TB) and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).


The South African National Aids Council (Sanac) launched the final plan in Rustenburg on World TB Day on Friday.


Health Minister Joe Phaahla will have to change the Nursing Act regulations to allow nurses to prescribe antidepressants, according to Andy Gray, a senior pharmacology lecturer at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.


Currently, only general practitioners and psychiatrists can prescribe psychiatric medication in South Africa. Nurses can get trained to prescribe some medicines, for instance, antibiotics, but not mental health medication such as antidepressants because these medications are classified as schedules 5 and 6 medicines, which can only be prescribed by doctors, explains Andy Gray, a senior pharmacology lecturer at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.


About one in three people in South Africa will have depression, anxiety or a substance use disorder at least once in their lives, according to the 2009 South African Stress and Health Survey. But three-quarters of people will never be treated, a 2009 South African Medical Journal study found.


Depression, anxiety, and substance abuse are much more common among people with HIV and TB than those not living with these illnesses, the plan says. Mental health conditions make it harder for people to keep taking their medication, and discrimination from health workers can result in people with mental health challenges not asking for the help they need.

Anxiety and depression also increase someone’s risk to contract HIV or TB (because anxious or depressed people often use coping mechanisms, for instance, substance abuse, that, in turn, make them more vulnerable to contracting HIV or TB).


That’s why it needs to be easier for people to get prescriptions for psychiatric medicine, the action plan says.


Professional nurses study for four years and receive a degree.


South Africa’s community health workers will also be trained to identify the signs of mental distress and substance abuse early on in the onset of such conditions.


But the new plan called the National Strategic Plan (NSP) for HIV, TB and STIs — which also aims to get more children vaccinated against the human papillomavirus (HPV) which causes cervical cancer — has a funding gap.


For the first year of implementation, there is R1.7-million too little available to reach the plan’s goals — and such shortfalls increase for each year; by 2028, the last year of the plan, the cumulative deficit, as things stand now, is R7.2-billion.



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