File picture: Anton Favilla/AP
Cape Town – Doctors Without Borders (MSF) released a survey of its HIV/TB project in Eshowe, KwaZulu-Natal, and it showed results of 90-94-95, meaning that 90% of people living with HIV know their status, 94% of those were on antiretroviral treatment and 95% of those had a suppressed viral load.

The UNAids target aims to see 90% of people on antiretrovirals, 90% with a suppressed viral load and 90% knowing their status by the year 2020.

Health Department deputy director-general Dr Yogan Pillay said: “This is excellent news. It shows that we can reach these very ambitious targets; it should encourage everyone to do what we know works to reach our targets for epidemic control.

“We must get communities to know their status, especially men. We are not testing men in sufficient numbers and they are lagging behind in terms of treatment as well.”

Pillay said he does not think the 90-90-90 target can be reached sooner than next December.

“The 9th SA AIDS Conference that is being held this week will provide us with new insights that we will consider and take to scale.”

Project medical referent Dr Liesbet Ohler said: “Everyone, from local civil society and patient groups, health staff and traditional health practitioners, traditional leaders and their members, was deeply involved in designing and helping this project to deliver from the beginning.

“We’ve shown that it’s possible to reach 90-90-90 in an area with one of the highest HIV infection rates in the country, where one in four people are living with HIV.”

“Importantly, we have ensured 94% of people who tested HIV positive started treatment, including people who are much less likely to test for HIV and link to care, such as men.” 

The survey, which included 3 286 people aged 15 to 59 years, is a follow-up to a 2013 survey done by MSF and Epicentre in the same area.

The 2018 survey found a significant increase in overall HIV status awareness increased and people starting treatment increased by 24% between 2013 and 2018.

While the results were encouraging, MSF cautioned against interpreting the survey results as a victory, as significant challenges remain. 

“While incidence decreased among women aged 15-29 years from 2.9% to 1.2%, this figure remains high and points to the continued risk faced by adolescent girls and young women, said MSF’s medical co-ordinator for South Africa, Dr Laura Trivino.

“Difficulties remain in reaching men, who overall achieve poorer treatment outcomes across the cascade. More than half of young men aged 15 to 29 years diagnosed with HIV are still not on treatment.

“We hope these findings will help focus our collective energies on reaching these groups, who remain the most vulnerable to HIV.”

Cape Times