Health-care workers at Stikland Hospital in Bellville unveiled a monument as part of their commemoration of World Aids Day on Friday.
December 1 is an international day that raises awareness of the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (Aids) pandemic, caused by the spread of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). The day shows support for those living with HIV and Aids and mourns those who are among the more than 40 million people believed to have died from Aids-related illnesses since the start of the pandemic.
Sister Valerie Nel, a clinical coordinator at the hospital, said the monument symbolised the foundation built by their predecessors in creating awareness of the pandemic.
“We take the theme, ‘let the communities lead’, to all our wards with screening, education and creating awareness for clients and staff. Our add-on to this is, ‘Where there is life, there is hope.’ The monument also symbolises hope.”
Health-care workers also planted a tree on the day.
“As the tree grows, it will symbolise the growth in awareness. The shade the tree offers symbolises the safe haven for all where we will endeavour to minimise stigma and discrimination experienced by those with HIV. This will also affirm our commitment to good patient experience of care,” she said.
In the provincial health department’s northern sub-district, at least 27 600 people are HIV positive and aware of their status, while 21 000 are on antiretroviral treatment (ARVs) and 17 000 have their virus suppressed, according to Dr Nosi Kalawe, a medical officer for the department.
In the Tygerberg sub-district, 34 500 are HIV positive and aware of it, while 24 000 are on ARVs and 19 000 have their virus suppressed.
Dr Kalawe is based at the Bellville Health Park and oversees the HIV and Aids, STI and TB (HAST) programme in the department’s northern and Tygerberg district.
Dr Kalawe said a whole-of-society approach was key to fighting the pandemic and the department’s work with community groups was part of that.
“We have managed to make people more aware of their HIV status. We have improved the quality of life by supplying HIV treatment that is tolerable and effective. Those who stay on HIV treatment have managed to reduce their virus to undetectable levels, making the HIV to be untransmittable,” she said.
“However, there is still a lot of work that still needs to be done, as we still have a group of HIV patients who continuously disengage from HIV treatment, meaning that their virus is detectable, and so they continue to transmit the virus. This is why we need everyone to get involved and encourage our communities to lead.”
Dr Kalawi said regular HIV testing was important for sexually active people.
“Test regularly because if you test negative while you are sexually active, you get an opportunity to be offered a daily pill for preventing HIV and keeping you negative.
“On the other hand, if you test positive, the sooner you know the better as you will receive life-saving treatment that improves your immunity, prevents infections and cancers that are associated with HIV, and you will have a better outcome and good quality of life.
“If you are a couple with a woman being pregnant or breastfeeding, by testing and taking ARVs, if positive, you will prevent vertical transmission of HIV to your baby.
“If you are on HIV treatment and you stay on treatment, the virus in the body decreases to levels that are not easily seen (undetectable), making it difficult to transmit the virus to somebody else, meaning that you are contributing to reducing HIV disease in the society.
“You don’t need to go through this alone, speak to a health-care worker at your clinic. Your treatment is confidential,” she said.