By Anne Abaho
THE South African government has launched the worldâ€™s biggest HIV testing drive. The drive has been described as a â€˜revolutionâ€™ in the national approach to HIV and AIDS, in a country with an HIV incidence of 12%, the highest in the world.
Thousands of new testing sites were established and over 4,000 health workers have been brought out of retirement to counsel and test a target of 15 million people. All final-year medical students are also volunteering in the drive.
The health minister, Dr. Aaron Motsoaledi, called it the largest testing and counselling campaign in the history of the AIDS. President Jacob Zuma and his deputy Kgalema Motlanthe kick-started the campaign by taking HIV tests at Natalspruit Hospital in Gauteng province.
This follows a debate among donors and international HIV bodies about the feasibility of mandatory HIV tests. The Clinton Foundation expressed willingness to fund such an exercise if ways of doing it without infringing on human rights could be found.
It is believed that knowing oneâ€™s HIV status encourages positive or responsible living. In South Africa, all those going for the tests also have their blood pressure, blood sugar and anaemia checked. They will also be checked for tuberculosis.
The South African government has also provided 1.5b condoms and everyone who is tested receives 100 condoms. Pregnant women who are found HIV-positive, are giventreatment.
Pregnant women whose CD4 count is above 350 are given PMTCT (Prevention of Mother to Child Treatment) at 14 weeks, instead of 28 weeks as is the practice.
Children below one year who are HIV-positive are also being given treatment. All TB and HIV co-infected people also start treatment if they have a CD4 count of 350 or below.
If carried out successfully, the mass testing programme will be something to emulate all over Africa.South Africa will host the FIFA world cup in June. It will be the first time the tournament is played on African soil. The mass testing drive is an attemt to reduce the further spread of the scourge during the prestigious tournament.