Less than a third of South Africa’s 35-million sexually active people get tested for HIV annually, according to health department figures. But the South African National Aids Council (Sanac) says 65% of South Africans have tested for HIV at least once. According to Sanac the country has among the “highest population-level HIV testing in the world”.
However, HIV clinician Sindi van Zyl said it is not sufficient to test for HIV only once in your lifetime if you are sexually active. “Your status can change at any time, even if you’re in a committed relationship, as unprotected sex continually exposes you to the risk of contracting the virus.”
The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and Aids (Unaids) says less than half of people infected with HIV in the world know that they’ve contracted the virus.
According to health department figures 6.4-million South Africans, or 17% of people between the ages of 15 and 49 are HIV positive.
South Africa has recently adopted the Unaids target of having 90% of the population know their status by the year 2020. According Unaids this is one of the targets that must be met in order “to end the Aids epidemic by 2030”.
“During the HIV testing launched in April 2010 20 million people were tested in 20 months. In the first quarter of the 2014/15 financial year 1.8-million people tested for HIV in [public] health facilities and a further 38 000 in state-owned enterprises and government departments,” said Steve Letsike, the co-chairperson of Sanac.
More women than men get tested
Nearly two thirds (65%) of people who took part in a recent survey by the Human Sciences Research Council had tested for HIV in the past 12 months. The survey found that a “significantly higher percentage of women (71.5%) than of men (59%) reported that they had been tested”.
“This is true, for example we currently know that up to 60% of people living with HIV are women. But we also know that men don’t go to clinics,” said Letsike. “We need men to get tested. Currently there seems to be a higher number of women living with HIV, but this could be because women go to test when they are pregnant.”
Letsike says that there are disparities between HIV testing in the public versus testing in the private sector. While testing in public and nongovernment sector facilities is free, “private appointments [for HIV testing] only happen if the tests are needed for life insurance policies. But I do think that the private sector plays a major role because they have a presence in the work place.”