Increased Voluntary Testing, Access to HIV/AIDS Drugs ‘Critical’ for Fighting Epidemic in South Africa, Opinion Piece Says
A recent "surge" in voluntary HIV testing will be a "pillar" in South Africa's strategy to combat HIV/AIDS because, "at last, there's a compelling reason to take the test: There's treatment available, even if you can't afford to pay for it," Douglas Foster, an associate professor at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, writes in a Los Angeles Times opinion piece (Foster, Los Angeles Times, 8/22). Officials expect 50,000 HIV-positive people to be on antiretroviral drugs by the end of the year and 1.4 million people to be on the drugs by 2009 at a total cost of $700 million (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 7/6). However, the treatment program has "spread in a spotty way" across South Africa, and only people in the "late stages of AIDS" have been eligible to receive the drugs, Foster says. In addition, the program "relies too heavily on a circle of overworked nurses, patient advocates, doctors and unpaid volunteers," Foster says. Increased HIV testing resulting from the new treatment program is "only the first step," Foster says, adding that afterwards must come the "critical part of the effort to extend access to HIV treatment: personal encounters with patients in health centers, clinics and hospitals." Such personal encounters could "inspire ... more frankness" between sexual partners about "sex and the medical consequences of their individual histories," which is often the "missing link in campaigns to stem the spread of HIV," Foster says, concluding that the program is the "sole hope" for South Africans who are newly diagnosed with HIV (Foster, Los Angeles Times, 8/22).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.