2016 News

Quilts show the progress in fight against HIV

CAPE TOWN, June 23 – On the eve of the International AIDS Conference in Durban (July 18–22), an exhibition of 17 quilts made by people affected by HIV told the story of what has been achieved since the last time the conference was held in South Africa in the year 2000.

TB/HIV Care Association unveiled quilts made as part of the larger international HIV Quilt Project, which is co-ordinated nationally by the South African National AIDS Council (SANAC), at an event at Haas Collective on Buitenkant Street on Thursday. The 2m by 2m quilts tell the stories of the people who made them – people involved in the organisation’s programmes, including people who inject drugs, sex workers and prison inmates, as well as those dedicated to supporting them.

All of the quilts will be submitted to the international HIV Quilt Project to be sewn on to the main quilt of more than 100,000 quilts from all over the world.

TB/HIV Care was only one of several organisations SANAC approached to create quilts to highlight the progress made in the response to HIV since 2000. At that time, antiretroviral treatment was not yet widely available in the country, stigma and discrimination were widespread and the outlook was bleak.

These quilts tell a very different story.

South Africa now has the largest antiretroviral treatment programme in the world, a mother-to-child-transmission rate of less than 2 percent and has witnessed an increase of more than 10 years in life expectancy over the past decade.

Zolani Barnes, ACSM Manager for TB/HIV Care, “Quilts have long been used as a medium for storytelling and these visual stories provide valuable insight into the lives behind the statistics.”

HIV Prevention Pill ‘PrEP’ Available for Sex Workers

Today, TB/HIV Care’s eThekwini sex worker project became one of the first ten sites in South Africa to offer PrEP (or pre-exposure prophylaxis) to sex workers. This exciting development means that HIV negative sex workers can now take a pill a day to prevent HIV.

This is in combination with a variety of other HIV prevention methods and wellness services on offer to sex workers through TB/HIV Care’s teams, which include condom distribution, sexually-transmitted infection screening and treatment, HIV counselling and testing, post-exposure prophylaxis, contraceptives and initiation onto antiretroviral treatment for those who are HIV positive.

According to a statement released by the National Department of Health, ‘an estimated 20% of the 350,000 people annually infected with HIV in South Africa are connected with sex work.’

Truvada, the drug used for PrEP, was approved for use as a method of HIV prevention by the South African Medicines Control Council in November 2015, and has been proven to reduce the risk of contracting HIV by up to 99% if taken as prescribed.

By offering PrEP to sex workers, a group at high-risk of infection, it is hoped that HIV transmission can be reduced within this group and beyond it.

For those not in eThekwini, PrEP can be obtained privately or through the following sites:

City of Johannesburg: Esselen Street Clinic, Hillbrow
Soweto: SSWP Wellness Centre
Tshwane: Sediba Hope Medical Centre
Limpopo: North Star Alliance Trucker Wellness Centres, Musina
Gauteng: Pomona
Mpumalanga: Ngodwana
KwaZulu-Natal: Pongola
Northern Cape: Upington
Limpopo: Hoedspruit

246 human rights abuses against people who use drugs reported over 3 months

People who use drugs frequently suffer human rights abuses, ranging from assault and extortion to having their medicine confiscated, all of which can make it very difficult to access health services.

These are the findings of a report released today as part of the South African Drug Policy Week Conference ‘RUN2016’ happening in Cape Town this week. TB/HIV Care’s StepUp Project recorded 246 human rights violations experienced by people who use drugs in three cities in South Africa over three months.

Shaun Shelly, Advocacy and Psycho-social Co-ordinator for The StepUp Project, said, “We hope that by recording and quantifying these practices, which seem to be tacitly accepted in certain quarters, there will greater awareness that human rights abuses against people who use drugs are indeed happening and are having a significant effect of the delivery of health services to drug users”

The StepUp Project provides health and wellness services such as screening for HIV, TB and sexually-transmitted infections (STIs), other sexual and reproductive health services, distribution of condoms and lubricants, provision of safe injecting equipment, safe disposal of needles and syringes, behaviour change interventions aimed at reducing the risks of drug use and sex, and referral to a range of psychosocial services. The services are provided to people who inject drugs by mobile clinics in recognition that this group of people is particularly vulnerable to a range of health issues, including HIV infection.

While implementing these services the StepUp project staff became aware of a large number of human rights abuses being perpetrated against the people accessing their services. They developed a method of formally logging reports of violations. The 246 violations recorded between August and November 2015 include 28 cases of assault, 8 cases of extortion, 14 detentions without cause and 157 cases of medical supplies being confiscated or broken.

The incidents documented in the report occurred in Cape Town, Pretoria and Durban where the project operates. However in Pretoria they were overwhelmingly concentrated in Moot; and in Belville in Cape Town.

‘Refusing to allow service delivery and harassing service users works against the public good,” says Shelly. “As well as denying people their rights, including the right to access health services, these actions mean that needles can no longer be collected by the StepUp team and the fear of being harassed because they are carrying needles and syringes will encourage people to dispose of needles immediately after use instead of storing them until they can be disposed of safely.

“These actions don’t solve anything,” he added.

Despite the violations, good progress has been made in engaging with communities around providing health services to people who inject drugs. The StepUp Project will continue to work hand-in-hand with communities, police, ward councils and neighbourhood watches with the aim of contributing to the overall wellbeing of all community members, including drug users.