‘We are ready’! On the 15th (of April) when the campaign is launched all the 4 300 health facilities in the country will be in a position to test’, Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, said.
Where health facilities are hard to reach, such as in rural areas, the Minister said mobile testing services will be sent out.
In a country where human resources for health are already over-burdened, the campaign is hard-pressed to find people to make it work. The Health Minister has written an appeal to retired health professionals to volunteer their services. A week ago about 4 000 had indicated that they want to serve.
‘We have issued about 9 000 letters. We just took the list from the respective organisations ‘ medical councils, nursing councils’, Motsoaledi said.
‘The huge component of the implementation plan contains a human resources strategy that has several layers to it, that includes the approach that will be taken to use volunteers or retired and/or any other cadre of the health work-force. That plan is in place’¦ of what the needs are in terms of training, what kind of update they need to be able to do this, what kind of support or mentoring will be needed. That is the work that is happening right now as we speak in the nine provinces. There is a dialogue with the Nursing Council on how we’re going to deal with the legal issues of people who are on the register or off the register. That is work that is already being done by the acting DG (acting Director-General) and the Minister with the relevant institutions and professional bodies’, added Dr Nono Simelela, head of the South African National AIDS Council (SANAC), which is tasked with leading the campaign.
People living with HIV and AIDS have also lent their support to the campaign. Silungile Mntambo is with the National Association of People Living with HIV and AIDS (NAPWA).
‘We will be providing psychological support in all sites as we believe that there’s no best counsellor like a person living with HIV/AIDS when it comes to HIV and AIDS. We will be doing community mobilization through our branches and support groups at a community level. We will be forming post-test clubs, ensuring (that) people who will be tested HIV-negative will stay HIV-negative. We’ll be assisting government on life-skills programmes. We have designed pamphlets where we have stated the benefits of knowing your own status’, said Silungile Mntambo of the National Association of People living with HIV and AIDS (NAPWA).
Health Minister, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, is promoting the campaign as part of a huge HIV prevention effort.
‘Government is distributing 450 million condoms currently. In this campaign we wish to increase this number of distributed condoms drastically.
Each person receiving HIV counselling and testing, whether they test positive or negative, before they leave the test centre, they must receive 100 condoms each. Hence, we will need 1.5 billion condoms for the 15 million people who will test up to June next year’, he said.
Out of the 15 million people to be tested about 1.5 million may test positive for HIV. Some of these will need treatment. When asked if the country’s treatment programme is ready to absorb the new patients, Motsoaledi replied:
‘The ARV AIDS budget increased by 33%. It is the highest single unit increment than any other in government. Our budget was R5 billion over the next three years. It is now R8 billion. And you are aware that PEPFAR has pledged to give us $120 million over two years – $60 million this year and $60 million next year – to try and help us buy ARVs. But, secondly, the ARVs we are buying in South Africa are more’¦ in some instances we are charged more than 60% than what other people are charged somewhere. So, I’ve already met the Minister of Finance, the Minister of Trade and Industry, the Minister of Economic Development and said, ‘this is going to stop’. The tender we are going to issue will be open to the whole world’.
This massive campaign seeks to test 15 million South Africans for HIV by the end of June 2011 and will cost about R1.4 billion.
Deputy chairperson of the South African National AIDS Council, Mark Heywood, described it as a ‘dramatic scaling up of our country’s response to the AIDS epidemic’.