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World AIDS Day - Rising to the challenge in Cape Town

By Kim Cloete
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Partners in the fight against HIV across research groups, government and civil society have united to raise awareness of the importance of preventing and treating HIV at a World AIDS Day event in Cape Town.

People who had died due to HIV were honoured during a moving candlelit ceremony, while a packed crowd who gathered at OR Tambo Centre in Khayelitsha were encouraged to get tested for HIV and to get and stay on Antiretrovirals (ARVs).

Khayelitsha has been a pioneer in the battle against HIV. The first public sector patient ever to receive ARV treatment in South Africa was in Khayelitsha. The community now has 42,000 people on ARVs.

Yet despite this, HIV and tuberculosis remain a major public health challenge for Khayelitsha and South Africa, said a joint statement by the City of Cape Town, the Treatment Action Campaign, the Desmond Tutu TB Centre, Anova Health Institute, Kheth’Impilo, Medecins Sans Frontieres, Ekhayavac, Equal Education and the Social Justice Coalition.

More than 30% of pregnant women in Khayelitsha are HIV positive, while young people between the ages of 15 and 24 are most at risk.

The Desmond Tutu TB Centre, which has been involved in both door-to-door and mobile HIV testing services over the past few years, set up tents where a steady stream of people got tested for HIV on World AIDS Day.

“Testing done in tents at busy corners, shopping malls and taxi ranks helps in the fight against stigma. In doing so the message of managing and preventing HIV infections is spread more effectively. The more clients see others being tested, the easier it will become for them to make the decision to get tested as well,” said Francoinette Esau, Deputy Project Manager of Intervention for the HPTN (071) PopART study for the Desmond Tutu TB Centre at Stellenbosch University.

As part of the study, Community HIV Care Providers (CHiPS) have fanned out across communities in the Western Cape over the past four years, to do HIV counseling and testing at people’s homes.

“Through this we’ve seen an increase in people being tested and treated for HIV,” said Virginia de Azevedo, Area Manager for the Khayelitsha and Eastern Sub-Structure for the City of Cape Town’s Department of Health.

“Nurses in our clinics are also doing a great job in getting more people onto ARVs. It’s very exciting and we are making strides. At the same time, we still need to do much more. We need to get more young people and men in particular to access the services earlier and, very importantly, to stay on ARVs.”

“Although ART has saved lives, the fight against HIV is far from over. Instead we need to adapt rapidly and vigorously to emerging challenges of the evolving HIV epidemic,” said Vuyani Makotha, the Chairperson of the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC).

Ayanda Makuzeni, popular presenter of the Hectic Nine-9 programme on SABC2, appealed to the crowd to respect and embrace people living with HIV. “There is no place for discrimination,” he said.

The World AIDS Day event drew a capacity crowd, with all partners on board handing out AIDS ribbons and information on HIV, as well as offering services to the people in the community.

They urged people to take responsibility to get tested, treated and to remain on treatment.

“Let our actions count. We can prevent HIV and TB. The earlier the better.”