Govt-linked company offers anti-AIDS drugs

A company in which government is a major shareholder has this year resolved to offer clients free anti-retroviral drugs if they believe they have been accidentally exposed to HIV.

In this unique offer, Vodacom Service Provider Company (VSPC) is offering subscribers with lost card protection and Yebo!Sure products a free “accidental HIV risk exposure” service.

The service covers a range of treatments, including two HIV tests, 28 days of anti-retroviral drugs, a morning-after pill to prevent pregnancy and prophylactic drugs to counter sexually transmitted diseases. Eligible subscribers will be able to make two claims a year.

“The benefits of living in South Africa are many, but there are also risks to living in one of the world’s most special countries,” says Joan Joffe, Vodacom’s Group Executive of Corporate Affairs.

“With our new accidental HIV exposure cover, Vodacom believes that it has made a small contribution towards increasing many people’s peace of mind so they can enjoy the good things about life in South Africa.”

VSPC is wholly owned by Vodacom, in which the government-owned Telkom has a 50% share.

Ironically, the government refuses to supply rape survivors with anti-retroviral drugs to prevent HIV infection as it says there is no evidence that use of the drugs as post-exposure prophylaxis works.

VSPC’s service is being managed by Calibre Clinical Consultants. Calibre’s CEO, Charles Parsons, says the service operates through a 24-hour helpline. Clients who phone in will be counselled and directed to the closest facility that can help them.

“In rape cases, certain evidence has to be collected,” says Parsons. “If a client’s doctor is unsure what tests need to be done or what anti-retroviral   drugs to prescribe, our trained staff will advise them via ateleconference.”  

Parsons said that there was “consensus in the international scientific community that post-exposure prophylaxis works”.  

He added that government itself offered its medical staff anti-retroviral drugs if were pricked by needles that could have carried HIV-infected blood.  

It is impossible to establish whether prophylactic anti-retroviral treatment prevents HIV in rape cases, as it would be unethical to experiment on rape survivors by denying a “control group” access to the drugs.

However, Sunninghill Clinic’s Dr Adrienne Wulfson has monitored over 1 000 rape survivors and found that none developed HIV if they starting taking anti-retroviral drugs within 72 hours of the rape.

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