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Get tested, the Tutu way

Lisa Steyn

Winner -- Investing in Life: NGO Award Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation.

Winner—Investing in Life: NGO Award Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation

When the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation launched its quaintly named Tutu Tester in May 2008, HIV testing was not readily available in underserviced highprevalence communities.

The Tutu Tester is a mobile screening clinic, run by nurses and supported by counsellors. The brightly coloured vehicle travels to sports matches, factories, farming areas, township shopping centres and taxi ranks and also sets up on roadsides.

It provides a range of services besides HIV testing, such as screening for hypertension, diabetes, tuberculosis and other sexually transmitted diseases. A physical examination is a mandatory part of the procedure.

“We do their glucose levels and their body mass index, which is really important for someone living with HIV. We also do a CD4 count for them,” says Dr Nienke van Schaik, the project manager.

Clients receive the CD4 result is within 20 minutes. Generally only 45% to 49% of people who test positive go back to their healthcare provider to get their CD4 result if it was sent to the lab,” Van Schaik says. ‘Our method means that we can tell the client immediately if they need to start antiretroviral treatment.”

The tester captures the data of each patient on a biometric system that can be accessed only by the patient’s fingerprint. This enables clients’ tests to be anonymous but still allows them to monitor their visits and easily access their medical histories.

This project has serviced more than 19 000 people in the Western Cape since 2008 and is just one of many innovative projects run by the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation—a non-profit organisation established in 2004.

The foundation began in the early 1990s as an HIV research unit based at New Somerset Hospital, one of the first public clinics to offer antiretroviral therapy to those with HIV. It has since grown to a team of more than 180 which provides a holistic approach to the control of HIV/Aids.

The foundation acts as a bridge between academic research, beneficiaries and the public. Supported by Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and his wife, Leah, it has extended its activities beyond HIV treatment to HIV prevention, training and tuberculosis monitoring in the hardest-hit communities of the Western Cape.

It works closely with city and provincial health departments. With projected operating costs of about R27.5-million for 2010, it raises funding from international and local donors. It has also formed strategic partnerships with other innovators and NGOs working in the health sector.

Innovations include setting up community advisory boards comprising leaders to advise the foundation on new initiatives. An adolescent ARV clinic it established in Gugulethu provides services not readily available elsewhere, geared specifically towards HIV-positive teenagers.

The foundation has also established a self-learning, distance-training programme that allows participants, such as public health workers, to evaluate their own knowledge on new advances in the treatment and management of HIV patients.

“Our goal is to investigate and do research into HIV and to develop the best treatment and practice,” says Van Schaik. “The research is around implementation and new practices.”

The foundation prides itself on its academic achievements but notes that “it is only possible through the collaboration and cooperation of the thousands of people affected by the HIV epidemic who come to our sites for help”.

The Investing in the Future judges praised the credibility, consistency and creativity of the foundation and its programmes. “It has done a lot towards HIV treatment and prevention and it’s an ongoing campaign,” they said. “It’s a worthy winner and one that should be replicated in other parts of the country.”


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