Compiled Indhrannie Pillay
The Center for HIV/AIDS Networking (HIVAN) and the HIV Prevention Unit of the Medical Research Council (MRC) hosted a HIV/AIDS forum at the Curries Fountain Sports Development Center Boardroom on 27 March 2007. The discussion topic for the forum was addressing the barriers to HIV testing and access to voluntary counselling and testing services in KwaZulu Natal.
According to a 2003 report by the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), the key to HIV prevention in South Africa is Voluntary HIV antibody Counselling and Testing (VCT). However, only one in five South Africans are aware of VCT and have been tested. Dr Rochelle Adams, Director of the Durban Christian Center (DCC) Hope Center Clinic, said, “There are many barriers which are preventing people from getting tested. The most common are the fear of death and of the stigma that is still attached to the virus.” Adams said that many people have the mindset that if they have HIV then they are going to die anyway and getting tested and knowing that they are HIV positive will kill them faster. Other reasons are that people are in denial of the existence of the disease and believe that they do not have it and never will contract it so there is no reason for them to be tested.
Programmes for VCT play an important role in preventing new HIV infections and in helping HIV positive individuals access appropriate care. “The VCT centers not only perform HIV testing for people, it also provides care, support and counselling to individuals who have tested positive. We provide the necessary support structures as well as Anti Retro Virals (ARV) to our clients,” Adams said.
It is extremely important to get tested and know your HIV status. Thabile Zimu, a community research assistant from MRC said, “The importance of knowing your status cannot be stressed enough. If you are tested and found to be negative then you need to know how to maintain your negative status. If you are positive then you need to understand that HIV and AIDS is not a death sentence. This is where VCT's are so vital. It talks about healthy living, treatment and care options and makes infected people aware of the fact that people are still living a normal life despite their positive status.” The stigmatizing attitudes towards people living with AIDS is due to a lack of education of the disease. Due to the stigma attached to the disease many people are afraid of getting tested “There needs to be an integration of different strategies to emphasize the importance of getting tested. People need to be educated about the disease and be given the correct information. There are a lot of myths and misconceptions out there and only proper education can correct these,” Zimu said.
There are a number of people who are unaware of their positive status and who continue to spread the disease through their risky behaviour. To increase the fight against HIV and AIDS, it is imperative that South Africans realise the benefits and importance of Voluntary Counselling and Testing.