Enhancing Voluntary Counseling and Testing in South Africa Could Improve Health of HIV-Positive People, Advocates Say
Some nurses, HIV/AIDS advocates and not-for-profit groups recently said that many HIV-positive people in South Africa could live longer and healthier lives if voluntary counseling and testing services were improved, especially in the country's KwaZulu-Natal province, the Monitor/Mail & Guardian reports. According South Africa Department of Health's Web site, the department in March 2002 employed 887 counselors at 474 sites across the country. Health department spokesperson Daphney Lebethe said that the department's database shows about 12,000 counselors have been trained to help HIV-positive people and that the department offers refresher courses for practicing counselors. However, Sifiso Nkala, provincial coordinator for the South Africa-based advocacy group Treatment Action Campaign, said, "We are concerned about the quality of VCT," adding, "Bad counseling does not only discourage people, it isolates [them] and creates a stigma." Some advocates said the health department needs to ensure that counselors provide accurate information on testing, treatment and nutrition. Patience Mavata, a nurse who runs the Ikhaya Lobomi AIDS clinic in the Valley of a Thousand Hills in KwaZulu-Natal, said that counselors sometimes give patients their test results but offer no medical or nutritional advice. Zanele Mjoka, a community development facilitator for the South Africa-based National Association of People Living with HIV/AIDS, said that staff shortages and large case loads for some counselors may be affecting the quality of services, adding that counselors might see between 15 and 20 patients in one day in a public hospital or clinic. She also said that the health department should communicate regularly with counselors so that they are better able to cope with their jobs (Palitza, Monitor/Mail & Guardian, 1/24).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.