South Africa: HIV Testing Campaign Far Behind Targets
December 7, 2010
AIDS activists say the government's campaign to offer voluntary HIV counseling and testing to 15 million South Africans by June, or nearly 1 million people a month, is lagging due to poor communication.
President Jacob Zuma announced the testing initiative in April. But by September, just 2.5 million people had been tested, barely 40 percent of the target number, said Mark Heywood, deputy chair of the South African National AIDS Council, the government's key coordinating body for the HIV/AIDS fight. Heywood presented the figures at a recent Treatment Action Campaign congress.
"The campaign has lost momentum because there is no proper communication campaign to sustain it," said Heywood. The health department's 90 million rand (US $13 million) campaign budget remains virtually unspent, he noted.
Data show that nearly one-fifth of people counseled declined to take an HIV test. Of those who did, 17 percent (429,000) were HIV-positive, a figure in line with UN data showing 18 percent of South Africans ages 15-49 are infected.
Heywood cautioned that the data must be verified. "We continue to get reports, consistently, of people just feeding numbers in because they have been told to meet targets," he said.
South Africa's largest pharmacy retailer, Clicks, said the number of people taking HIV tests in its stores has more than doubled since the campaign kicked off. And the country's largest health insurer, Discovery Health, said it has seen a surge in testing, said Alain Peddle, head of research and development.
Dr. Francois Venter, head of the Southern African HIV Clinicians Association, said, "I think the minister is still firmly behind it, and the national health department is still pushing hard, but at the provincial level, it seems some momentum may have been lost."
Business Day (Johannesburg)
11.25.2010; Tamar Kahn
This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
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