Clutching her one month-old baby Wilfred, Levona van der Vent of Scottsdene, who is a mother of six children, was one of a group of more than 50 people at Northpine clinic who were tested as part of the City’s health directorate World Aids Day outreach programmes at a number of clinics on Thursday December 1.
Following her HIV/Aids test, which came out negative, Ms Van der Vent said it was important and necessary to know her status.
As people waited patiently in the searing heat outside the clinic, health workers took blood prick samples and also tested the residents’ blood pressure.
Marius Claassen told Northern News that he gets tested every year and has spent many hours telling his five teenage children about the importance of HIV/Aid awareness and prevention.
At the launch of the programme in Northpine, City health worker sister Maria Engelbrecht told the group: “It is real; it is spreading and we can only win against HIV/Aids if we join hands to save our nation. For too many years we have closed our eyes, hoping the truth was not so real. For too long we have allowed the HIV virus to spread at a rate in our country which is one of the fastest in the world.”
Worldwide, there are 37 million people living with Aids, and Africa has 70 percent of all HIV infections. According to the latest statistics, last year an estimated
7 million South Africans were living with HIV while the same year saw 380 000 new infections and the deaths of 180 000 people from Aids-related illnesses.
In a poem she wrote for the day, Ms Engelbrecht said, “We have experienced Aids in groans of wasting lives, we have carried it in small and big coffins, too many graveyards.
“At times we did not know we were burying Aids victims. At other times we knew, but chose to remain silent. When the time comes for each one of us to make a personal precautionary decision, we fall prey to doubt and false confidence. We hope that HIV/Aids is someone else’s problem, but it is our problem by allowing it to spread.”
She urged the youth in particular to be aware and take precautions: “We face the danger that half of our youth will not reach adulthood; their education will be wasted. The economy will shrink. I appeal to the young people who represent the country’s future to abstain from sex or use a condom and for men and women to be faithful to one another.”
Ms Engelbrecht also appealed to the crowd not to let stigmatisation of HIV/Aids get the better of them. “”Those living with Aids must not be subjected to discrimination of any kind, they are human beings like you and I. When we lend a hand we build our own humanity, and when we remind ourselves that like them, each one of us can become infected. Nothing can prevent infection except our own behaviour.”
In addition to Northpine, the outreach programmes also took place on Thursday at Harmonie Clinic, a clinic set up outside the Pick n Pay Hypermarket in Brackenfell, Bloekombos Clinic, and the Wallacedene and Scottsdene clinics. Hundreds of people came to check their HIV/Aids status.
At Northpine, residents who were tested were rewarded with a piece of cake and a cooldrink and a candle was lit inside the clinic to remember the millions who had lost their lives to disease.
In a media release issued last week, the City said in the last financial year (June 2015 – July 2016), City Health started 12 954 new patients on ART, against a target of 8 540. It said HIV tests have become routine for new tuberculosis (TB) patients, which allows for early diagnosis and treatment of dual infections (HIV underlying TB). It said TB does occur in people who are not HIV positive, but is a common opportunistic infection in patients who are HIV positive. In the last financial year more than 68 million male condoms were given out, said the City.
In the release, Mayco member for health, Siyabulela Mamkeli, was quoted as saying: “One particular area of concern continues to be young women aged 15 to 24 years who have the highest HIV infection rate in the country.
“We want people to get tested, know their status and take advantage of the treatment on offer should they test positive. Test not just once, but on a regular basis – particularly if you are sexually active or have more than one partner. Sexual fidelity is ideal, but we cannot be naive about these things.”
He added: “Many young people are growing up with misperceptions because it is culturally taboo or their parents are not inclined to talk about sex. Bring your child to the clinic for advice if you aren’t able or willing to talk to them about these things. Our staff are on hand to help.”