A top-level German delegation is in South Africa to see first-hand the positive impact made by community HIV testing in the country.
A 23-member delegation, led by Theresa Bauer, who is the Minister of Science, Research and the Arts for the German state of Baden-Wurttemberg, visited a community testing site, operated by Stellenbosch University's Desmond Tut Centre - where tents and caravans are set up to allow people to swiftly get tested for HIV instead of going to a clinic.
The mobile testing forms part of an HIV prevention package delivered door-to-door by mobile units in the community through community HIV care providers. The testing forms part of the HPTN 071 (PopART) study.
The study, which involves about 1 million people in SA and Zambia, will determine the impact of a package of HIV prevention interventions on community-level.
“The Desmond Tutu TB Centre was recommended to us as an extraordinary institution where research on pressing health questions is done in a very practice-oriented way to the direct benefit of society,” said Bauer.
The delegation comprised mostly principals and rectors from Baden-Wurttemberg, which has the greatest concentration of universities and the most diverse higher education landscape in Germany.
The group was interested to hear about the experiences of Blia Yang and her team of community HIV care providers in testing people for HIV in and around Cape Town. They were also encouraged to hear how counselors follow up with HIV-positive clients at their homes to help link them to care at clinics and get the antiretroviral treatment they need.
The delegation congratulated the field teams for their hard work in addressing the HIV epidemic.
Nulda Beyers, principal investigator for the HPTN 071 (PopART) trial in SA sais: “I am delighted that the delegation could see how people in communities are involved in and benefit directly from Stellenbosch University’s research activities.”
The visit to the HIV testing site forms part of the delegation’s five-day visit to South Africa and Namibia. The group is particularly interested in the interconnections between science and research, as well as science and industry, with the focus on “living laboratories” in the fields of health, food security and social research.
“We learned that in South Africa this interaction between science and industry, including civil society, is achieved particularly well. This is why we chose to come to South Africa and to learn more about this network and exchange at institutes like the Desmond Tutu TB Centre,” said Minister Bauer.
The delegation also visited the DST-NRF Centre of Excellence for Biomedical TB Research at UCT, as well as the Lynedoch eco-village Initiative near Stellenbosch.
Professor Arnold Van Zyl, president of the Baden-Wuerttemberg Cooperative State University, said the visit was a valuable learning experience as university leaders could see how knowledge was combined with community health practice in very close proximity. He said this was unusual as clinical and bio-medical work in other countries was often done far from each other.
The visit is expected to hold longer-term benefits.
Bauer said: “Cooperating with and integrating with African partners is essential if we want to make progress when confronting today’s pressing global challenges.”