It seems there's a growing trend in South Africa for people to stop taking the government supplied anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs in a bid to ensure they continue to get the disability grant.

South African law, like many other countries' laws, regards having HIV and AIDS as a disability. This in turn entitles people to various disability grants. Quite rightly, the South African law stipulates certain requirements need to be met in order to qualify for a disability grant (currently R700 a month). Just because a person has HIV or AIDS, doesn't mean they automatically qualify for the grant. In order to get the grant, the person must have a CD4 cell count below 50, AND a major opportunistic infection. This can of course be challenged if a person living with HIV does not meet these conditions, but is still unable to support him/herself.

Unfortunately, it didn't take people long to cotton on to the fact that the longer they remain ill, the more money they'll get. At first you may think these people are being incredibly stupid putting money (you may call it greed) before their own health, but if you think about it, and consider the alternative, it's not such a stupid thought process.

Most of these people are unemployed, and have been for a long time. Accordingly, they do not qualify for unemployment benefits. It's quite a complex scheme which is quite limited, and requires you to contribute to UIF before you can claim. (More details here)

As you can imagine, supporting yourself and your family on zero Rands a day is going to be very tough, dare I say impossible. By remaining ill, these people are getting R700 a month to support themselves and their families. Add to this a certain level of pride and a feeling of responsibility, and you soon understand why they are doing this. People would rather sacrifice their own lives and give their kids a chance than get themselves better and back in a job, which they may or may not get.

I don't think these people are the ones at fault. I think it's the grant system as a whole. Once that 50 count mark is met, people are left stranded without a penny to their name, and no way of getting anymore, short of crime or hunting for a job in an already competitive and small job market. Yes, whilst you have to stipulate certain criteria needed in order to qualify for the grant in the first place, something needs to be done to encourage people to get better.

I'm not an economist, but maybe something like a conditional cash transfer (CCT) program, like those used by countries like Mexico, Brazil and Nicaragua, is needed. Yes, this will cost the government money, but South Africa should be able to cope with this, and in the long run it will help push South Africa ever closer to First World (though the term is now deprecated in favour of the more PC "developed country" term) status.

South Africa is one of the fastest growing economies in the world and has nowhere near the population of some of the poorer countries that have implemented CCT programs in the past. It would be great to see South Africa implement a system like this it help combat poverty and the sickness and crime associated with it.