South Africa steps up HIV testing drive


23 October 2013

South Africa has bolstered its massive HIV testing programme by including eye, blood pressure and TB tests in the campaign, but more still needs to be done to ensure full coverage of testing, says Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe.

Addressing MPs and NGO representatives in Parliament in Cape Town on Tuesday at the start of a two-day HIV testing campaign targeting parliamentarians, Motlanthe said that more than 20-million South Africans had been tested for HIV since the launch of the country’s testing campaign in 2010.

The campaign has targeted various workplaces and communities across the country, ranging from farms and taxi ranks to mines, banks and universities.

Currently, HIV tests are complemented by screening for TB and high blood pressure. As HIV affects eyesight, eye tests have also helped to expand the reach of the campaign.

“We must continue our programmes to achieve full coverage and, more importantly, we must maintain our focus on prevention, prevention and prevention,” said Motlanthe, who is also the chairman of the SA National Aids Council.

He called on every South African to test annually for HIV, adding that it was important to test regularly so that people found to have the virus could take the appropriate action.

“Those that test negative must do everything possible to ensure that they maintain their negative status, and those that are HIV-positive need to enrol in our treatment, care and support programme,” he said.

Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said that, before the launch of the HIV testing and counseling campaign in 2010, voluntary testing reached just two-million South Africans a year, whereas after the first year of the campaign about 18-million South Africans knew their HIV status.

At the same time, the number of South Africans receiving free anti-retroviral (ARV) treatment had increased from 923 000 to 2.1-million people, while the number of facilities offering ARV drugs had climbed from 490 to 3 540 facilities countrywide, and the number of nurses trained in treating HIV/Aids had grown from 250 to 23 000.

Also addressing MPs, the Speaker of the National Assembly, Max Sisulu, said the country had faced a heavy burden of HIV/Aids.

“Each one of us knows of a family member, a friend, a neighbour, a colleague, or comrade who is living with HIV/Aids or who has succumbed to it,” Sisulu said.

“Thankfully, we are however at a tipping point in the fight against HIV/Aids and TB,” he said, adding that he was particularly encouraged by recent statistics that revealed that the number of new HIV infections had declined and that the number of HIV/Aids-related deaths were decreasing.

However, he said, the country needed to push harder to reach zero infections and to end discrimination against HIV/Aids.