Massive HIV-testing drive for SA

A major HIV counselling and testing
campaign set to reach 15 million South
Africans is due to kick off in South Africa
this month.
(Image: Chris Kirchhoff,
MediaClubSouthAfrica.com. For more free
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MEDIA CONTACTS
• Nono Simelane
SA National Aids Council
+27 11 655 7000
nono@sanac.org.za

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Nosimilo Ramela

A major HIV counselling and testing campaign will be launched in South Africa this April. Recognised as the most comprehensive in the world to date, the drive aims to have 15-million South Africans tested by June 2011.

The initiative, which is being led by the South African National Aids Council (Sanac) and government, will run until the end of 2011, when the National Strategic Plan on HIV and Aids is concluded.

Speaking at a Sanac meeting in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, on 17 March, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said: “The main objectives of the campaign are to encourage South Africans to know their HIV status; to equip those who test HIV-negative with ways of ensuring that they do not get HIV; to increase health-seeking behaviour; and to create a quick and easy entry point to accessing wellness and treatment services for those who test HIV-positive.

From April 15, everyone who visits one of the 4 300 health facilities in the country will be offered an HIV test, regardless of whether they show symptoms or not, the minister added.

Previously only pregnant women and people showing symptoms of HIV were given the option of being tested, while others had to volunteer and request a test.

“I don’t have a feeling that South Africans understand that the biggest weapon against HIV must be prevention,” Motsoaledi said. “The mainstay of the fight against any disease is to prevent it from happening.”

The Department of Health will raise funds for testing kits to be supplied to all health centres. “Health facilities won’t be expected to provide those,” the minister said.

According to the Health Department, there are currently more than 5-million people living with HIV/Aids in South Africa – out of a population of 49-million.

In the 2010/11 national budget, presented by Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, the Department of Health’s HIV/Aids allocation increased by 33% from the previous year.

Compared to budgets for other departments, 33% is the highest increase, said Motsoaledi.

But “we can’t keep on increasing by 33%. We have got to cut the rate of infection. That’s where the issue of prevention comes in,” he said.

“If we keep on increasing [the budget] we will reach a situation in South Africa where the whole budget must go to the treatment of HIV/Aids, and I don’t think any country can afford that. So, our war of prevention is extraordinarily important.”

Private-public partnership

Local business has shown great support for the drive. “We fully endorse and support government’s campaign, its targets and the keen focus on HIV prevention,” said Brad Mears, CEO of The South African Business Coalition on HIV/Aids (Sabcoha), which works with the private sector in combating the epidemic.

Mears said his organisation would establish workplace wellness facilities to provide HIV counselling and testing.

“You don’t have to be a scientist to know that prevention is better than cure at all times. But if you have failed to prevent it and it has happened, you have to treat it. We do accept that the fact that we have got so many people on treatment, might be the failure of prevention,” Motsoaledi said.