Communities do make the difference in South Africa’s HIV response
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This past Tuesday, I had the privilege of touring Laudium Community Health Centre, a large Pepfar-supported public clinic in Tshwane.
The American people, through the US President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief, are committed to helping South Africa reach HIV epidemic control by the end of next year. Pepfar has an enduring partnership with South Africa, and has invested more than R80 billion since 2004 in the HIV response.
When I toured Laudium, I was struck by the teamwork and motivation of everyone involved. The manager, Sister Nancy Nkopane, is one of those rare individuals whose passion for this fight knows no bounds. The relationship she has with each client I saw that day was something rare.
The facility is filled with dedicated health-care professionals who face the many challenges of ensuring that their fellow community members have access to care, and can remain on lifesaving HIV treatment. And even though they are reaching their goals, the team want to make their community a better place. I was staggered to see the volume of clients they were quickly processing, every day. It wasn’t this way a year ago. Back then, you would have been greeted by stacks of patient files, stored haphazardly. This reality made work more difficult for the staff and seriously impacted on the lives of clients seeking care. Staying on treatment sometimes meant waiting three hours or more to get their chart before they could see a doctor.
Working with our partners and Department of Health personnel in the facility, Pepfar implemented a new, innovative filing system, and standardised how information travels through the facility. Waiting times are now averaging 10 minutes.
After I visited Laudium, I reflected upon what an appropriate theme we have for this World Aids Day - Communities Make the Difference. I have witnessed how communities do make the difference in South Africa’s HIV response, how individuals like Sister Nancy, working in a team, with a helpful hand and a generous grant from Pepfar, are making the difference.
We recognise that, together, we must do better in addressing the very human reasons why people may not prioritise initiating - and continuing - lifesaving antiretroviral treatment.
To that end, collaborations between Pepfar, our partners, and the Department of Health are making it easier for clients to access services and treatment, by extending clinic hours at any number of facilities, and increasing the number of external medication pick-up points at pharmacies, churches, and workplaces - and introducing exciting innovations such as smart lockers and pharmacy dispensing units, which are like ATMs, but for chronic medicines.
In this way, we strive to meet the clients where they are - in the community. This means expanding community-based outreach teams and reconnecting with those who have stopped taking treatment, through SMS, phone calls and home visits.
Pepfar understands the power of having a member of your own community guide you through a treatment journey, to be an advocate and a friend. This is why we are funding more than 12000 jobs for South Africans, including community health workers and adherence counsellors.
Our efforts have improved the HIV response. We will expand the strategies across the country to the more than 2600 facilities Pepfar supports. We have a tremendous amount of work ahead of us in order to reach epidemic control. We are all essential parts of a community, a community that can make the difference.
But we cannot do it without your help. If you are HIV-positive, start treatment. Immediately. Stick with it. By staying on treatment, your viral load can become undetectable. This protects your health and reduces the chance of transmitting the virus to others. If you’ve stopped treatment, make plans to go to a facility as soon as possible. If you are HIV-negative, learn about your prevention options.
Continuing Pepfar’s life-saving work to help South Africa reach epidemic control is a priority. Working together, we can ensure that all South Africans have the opportunity to live longer, healthier and happier lives.
* Marks is ambassador-designate of the US to South Africa.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.