In April this year the South African government launched the HIV Counselling and Testing (HCT) campaign – a new national drive to encourage people to know their HIV status and access counselling and treatment. This week Siyayinqoba Beat It! reports from the national and provincial HCT launches and finds out what the campaign means for South Africans affected by the epidemic.
At the national launch event at Natalspruit Hospital in Gauteng, government representatives came together with civil society figures including Treatment Action Campaign General Secretary Vuyiseka Dubula, who is also living with HIV and spoke about the HIV test in 2001 which “saved my life.”
President Jacob Zuma and the Minister of Health Dr. Aaron Motsoaledi announced a new target to test 15 million people by June 2011 in what is being seen as a gateway into HIV prevention, treatment and care. To reach this ambitious goal the government has undertaken a massive expansion of the number of health facilities accredited to test and treat people.
The campaign, the largest scale-up in the world, was welcomed by both HIV activists as well as medical professionals as a crucial step in the fight against HIV and AIDS. Michel Sidibé, executive director of UNAIDS said, “What we’re seeing today is a revolution.” Dr Motsoaledi also called on “every single South African who has leadership in any sphere of life … to take the lead and be the first ones to test.” The minister himself was amongst those who tested on the day and he was followed by numerous members of the public.
In our studio Dr Trevor Majoro explains that the change from Voluntary Counselling and Testing (VCT) to HCT is because patients are now offered and encouraged to test whenever they attend a health facility. President Zuma used his speech to emphasise that the decision to test is still a patient’s individual and confidential choice but he encouraged openness though the expansion of knowledge and understanding: “Stigma arises from fear, and fear from ignorance. Let us fight ignorance,” he said.
At the provincial launches Siyayinqoba’s trainers were present to help educate communities about the disease while our CJs spoke to those involved to find out about different elements of the campaign. In Mpumalanga, for example, the provincial department of health is working closely with traditional healers. Nyangezizwe Mpila, a local healer, explained that traditional healers were being trained to recognise the symptoms of HIV and TB in order to be able to send their clients to the right institutions to get tested.
The new campaign is an indication of the government’s engagement in efforts to fight the epidemic and not just to focus on treatment but equally on preventing new infections. Each individual has a role to play as indicated by the slogan for this first phase of the campaign: “I am responsible.” As KwaZulu-Natal Premiere Dr Zweli Mkhize said: “Once you have tested you either have to stay negative, if you are positive you must approach institutions for help, but most importantly, do not infect others.” It is up to all parts of society to work together to stay healthy, to get tested, to prevent new infections, to expand access to treatment and to fight stigma and denialism.