Health minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi has approved changes to the HIV Counseling and Testing guidelines requiring that health care workers in the public sector routinely offer HIV testing to all persons entering any health facility while instructing his department to move rapidly to enable community health workers to be able to test for HIV.
Motsoaledi made a personal appeal in a letter to health workers to support him in efforts to massively increase the number of HIV tests done at health facilities, public and private.
In a letter sent to health facilities and starting off with ‘Dear Health Care Worker’, Motsoaledi said he understood that challenges the massive HIV Counseling and Testing (HCT) campaign announced by President Zuma at last year’s World AIDS Day and due to kick off on April 1 posed to health workers.
‘We are aiming to massively increase the number of HIV tests done in this period. All health facilities, public and private, will be offering HCT services. All of this will have serious implications for yourselves working at the coalface of the national response to the epidemics of TB and HIV that are killing our people,’ said Motsoaledi.
He acknowledged that if the campaign was a success and more people demanded to be tested, it would increase the already strenuous workload health workers have been carrying.
‘But the scale of the epidemics that we are facing requires that we take unprecedented action,’ he said.
‘I am writing to you personally today because for too long our response to HIV has been a burden shouldered alone by the country’s health care workers. Though you have done so unsupported, it is a role that you have performed with great courage. You have managed to provide care and support to millions of people who enter our health facilities each year and during 2010 South Africa will reach one million patients enrolled onto antiretrovirals.
‘This is a great achievement, but it is still a long way short of the number of people who require life saving treatment. The HCT campaign is an attempt to reach those people who we have thus far failed to reach and to enroll onto treatment all who require it. If we are to succeed then I will need your help,’ said Motsoaledi.
He said he was engaging all of South Africa’s private hospital groups, medical schemes and health care funders, health workers no longer part of the current health care system and all community support organisations in the HCT drive.
Motsoaledi confirmed in the letter that he had approved changes to the HCT guidelines that now require that all health care workers in the public sector routinely offer HCT to all persons who enter a health facility for any ailment. ‘I have also instructed my department to move rapidly to enable community health workers to be able to test for HIV,’ he said.
He ends the letter with a call to action: ‘I want this national campaign to be one massive, unified effort against the epidemics of HIV and TB. As one of the soldiers on the frontline of this war I wanted to write to you personally to ask for your support as South Africa joins you in taking responsibility for the HIV, AIDS and TB epidemics.’