Quest for zero HIV infections

27 November 2013

Phumla WilliamsWe have come a long way together in the fight against HIV and AIDS. We have managed to make great strides and that is witnessed by the improvement of our life expectency. This should begin to give confidence to all of us that HIV is not a life sentence.

Taking an HIV test is stressful. While waiting for your results, your heart starts to race, your hands sweat and your mind weighs up the two very different outcomes.

During the launch of HIV Counselling and Testing (HCT) campaign in 2010 President Jacob Zuma acknowledged that taking an HIV test is “not easy”. He added: “It is a difficult decision to take. But it is a decision that must be taken by people from all walks of life, of all races, all social classes, and all positions in society. HIV does not discriminate."

As nerve-racking as an HIV test may be for some, it is crucial to know your status. Therefore this coming Sunday on World AIDS Day, Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, chairperson of South African National AIDS Council (SANAC) will mark the event by encouraging South Africans to: “Get wise. Get tested. Get circumcised.”

In line with this theme, the day will be used to revitalise the 2010 HCT campaign and to launch the Medical Male Circumcision campaign.

Over the past three years, the HCT campaign has been extremely successful with more than 20 million people being tested. South Africa now has the largest HCT programme in the world.

The revitalised campaign will build on this success by continuing to encourage South Africans to get tested for HIV at least once per year in order to make informed decisions on preventative measures, treatment, care and support.

However, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi is concerned that “it is mostly women who have come forward for testing” with the figures showing that only a third of those tested were men.

The lack of testing among our men is also reflected in the uptake of antiretroviral (ARV) treatment. A consortium led by Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS) found that 80 per cent of eligible HIV positive women are on treatment in comparison to only 65 per cent of eligible men.

Hence we call on all South Africans and men in particular to join our HCT campaign. Some may be hesitant to get tested for HIV because of concerns over privacy. Our health personnel at our 3 540 public facilities are trained to respect the privacy and dignity of people and all results are treated with confidentiality.

To those who test negative, we would like to urge you to continue protecting yourself. However, if you are HIV positive, President Zuma had the following words of support: "HIV is not a crime and is no longer a death sentence. That is why we announced …measures …, to enable South Africans to manage the condition and live productively."

The “measures” consist of comprehensive services which were implemented since 2010. As part of these services, all patients with both TB and HIV are placed on ARV treatment if their CD4 count is 350 or less. In addition, pregnant

Phumla Williams is Acting CEO of the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS)