News / Africa

South Africa Aims for 15 Million HIV Tests in 14 Months

Delia Robertson

Sunday President Jacob Zuma will launch a national campaign to test 15 million South Africans for HIV by June, 2011.  The campaign will likely stress the country's already ailing health-care system.

The HIV testing and counseling campaign will be launched at a single location in each of South Africa's nine provinces this month.  The program will be expanded every two months until 52 health centers are offering the service.

The campaign will be run under the auspices of the South African National Aids Counsel, which includes representatives from government across the spectrum to health activists.  

Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi has said the goals of the campaign include encouraging healthy life-styles and increasing access to treatment, care and support services.

The University of the Witwatersrand's Reproductive Health and HIV Research Unit Senior Director of HIV Management, Francois Venter, tells VOA the plan is extremely ambitious.  He says it is likely to severely stress the country's weak health care systems.

"Even if we do not make 15 million, if what we do is actually really severely stress the system and work out exactly where the bottlenecks are, and which areas of the health system are going to give us problems in the future, that will make it worthwhile," Venter said.

Health Minister Motsoaledi's plan is to also use the campaign to screen for other conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and TB.  Venter says this has the potential to have broader long-term benefits for the health of South Africans.

"I think that you are going to get a lot more bang for your buck using the HIV testing program as a way of galvanizing people to actually screen them for other illnesses; and again, to see whether that translates into people being retained in the system," Venter said.

In addition to the highest number of HIV positive people in the world, South Africa also has very high rates of diabetes, hyper-tension, and tuberculosis, which is a particular problem because of the number of cases of multiple and extreme drug-resistant TB.

These problems are made worse by floundering health care systems, which despite receiving the highest financial input per person on the continent, have some of the worst health-care outcomes.

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