Groundbreaking Aids campaign gets under way

A “revolution” in South Africa’s response to HIV/Aids will unfold next month as the largest-ever testing and counselling campaign kicks off, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said on Thursday.

“...We are absolutely united and ready to take the bull by the horns,” Motsoaledi told a media briefing at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg.

The campaign, approved by Cabinet earlier this month, has a price tag of more than R1,4-billion. It will require 2,5-billion male condoms over the next year and will see 15-million tested for HIV/Aids by 2011.

The campaign kicks off in April when President Jacob Zuma and his deputy, Kgalema Motlanthe, are expected to be tested at the Natalspruit Hospital to launch the campaign.

It includes a massive education, information and mobilisation plan, involves all government hospitals and clinics, and all universities and further education and training campuses.

Motsoaledi said he has issued 9 000 letters to retired healthcare staff, of which 4 000 have responded positively to help implement the campaign.

South Africa accounts for only 0,7% of the world’s population, but the country carries 17% of the global HIV burden.

In November last year, Motsoaledi announced shocking local HIV statistics that he largely blamed on the previous administration’s tardiness.

Far-reaching measures
On World Aids Day Zuma announced far-reaching measures to increase treatment of HIV/Aids, marking the first step in a shift in government’s response to the pandemic.

Motsoaledi said he has been busy scouring the country to enlist all sectors in the government’s latest drive to curb HIV/Aids.

The NGO sector pledged 9 000 counsellors to the drive, and Motsoaledi confirmed that Defence Minister Lindiwe Sisulu has agreed to allow South African National Defence Force medical staff to help out.

“We have asked medical universities to release all their final-year medical students for at least five days in the first week of the campaign,” he said.

The plan also includes other aspects of healthcare, including checking blood pressure for hypertension, and symptomatic Tuberculosis (TB) screening.

On the treatment side, the government has taken a decision to scale up the provision of TB drugs to HIV-positive people who don’t have active TB.

Another far-reaching development is that post-exposure prophylaxis will be available for rape survivors at all health facilities without a request for a case number from the police.

“There are thugs who enter hospitals after getting shot and get treated ... but when a woman is raped the facility wants a case number first.

“We should also give treatment fairly to those who are aggrieved.”

Regularly monitored and evaluated
The campaign was hailed by South African National Aids Council (Sanac) deputy chairperson Mark Heywood.
“This is the largest testing and counselling campaign in the history of the Aids pandemic around the world,” he said.

It is supported by all sectors of Sanac, including celebrities, religious leaders, researchers and business.

The testing facilities will also be provided by business.

Clicks pharmacy has agreed to allow all its pharmaceutical retailers to provide free tests throughout the campaign.

The test kit will be provided by government but staff and other resources will be provided by the facilities.

Motsoaledi said he met 500 general practitioners from Gauteng who agreed to have their practices made available at free testing sites.

He said the campaign will be regularly monitored and evaluated, unlike in the past where this took place years after campaigns were launched.

He urged South Africans to participate in the campaign and he would be urging government officials, premiers and ministers to join in.

He, however, said it was unnecessary for anyone, including politicians, to disclose their status.

“We would hate a situation where in this campaign we start chasing them [politicians].

“We haven’t taken that decision to push anybody to disclose their status.”

He did, however, encourage people to disclose their status to their loved ones.

Present at the briefing were Sanac representatives and people from UNAids. The department had set up a mobile station in the media conference venue for those hoping to take advantage of the campaign immediately.—Sapa

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