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Launch of the Western Cape’s U=U Campaign

Chants of “U=U. Undetectable equals untransmittable” rang out in Mitchell’s Plain on Tuesday, 01 August, as MEC for Health and Wellness in the Western Cape, Dr Nomafrench Mbombo, led a community walk through the streets of Westville before the official launch of the province’s U=U Campaign.

It was an important day for the province, and in the words of Premier Alan Winde, “The U=U Campaign offers us an opportunity to give the prevention and treatment of HIV the urgent priority needed to make significant inroads in fighting this disease. Our aim is to give residents living with HIV dignity and hope. This initiative will be driven with the same determination and urgency we used in delivering a world-class Covid-19 response. Through this initiative, those in our province living with HIV are given the hope that this disease does not have to determine the course of their entire lives, but rather they can grab any opportunity with the comfort of knowing that they are healthy.”

Premier Winde was joined by TB HIV Care’s Prof. Harry Hausler, who co-chaired the event in his capacity as the Chairperson of the Western Cape Civil Society Forum (CSF). Harry provided the background and context for why U=U is so important, reflecting on his time as a family physician in Canada in the 1990s when HAART was not available – and how things changed for his patients as soon as it became available, and people could live full and healthy lives.

Other speakers included Dr Nomafrench Mbombo, PLHIV Sector Lead Neliswa Nkwali, and Head of Health, Dr Keith Cloete. All reflected on the central objectives of the campaign, which aims to:

  • re-engage people living with HIV who have been lost from care;
  • ensure that everyone living with HIV is able to start and adhere to treatment; and
  • ultimately ensure that people achieve undetectable viral loads.

According to the latest numbers from the province, while 92% of people living with HIV know their status, only 59% of them are on ART, and only 21% have had their viral loads (VL) checked in recent months (92% of those whose VLs were checked were virologically suppressed). The U=U Campaign aims to close the gaps, and as Harry explained, the essence of ‘U=U’ is that from the moment a person tests HIV-positive, they should start taking ART and know their viral load. Once their viral load is undetectable (at four months), they will not transmit HIV (untransmittable) and remain healthy!

Closing the Gap in Paediatric HIV Management

South Africa is committed to reaching the UNAIDS 95-95-95 targets by 2025, whereby 95% of people living with HIV (PLHIV) know their status, 95% of those are on sustained antiretroviral therapy (ART), and 95% of people receiving treatment are virally suppressed.

In 2023 in South Africa, 92% of PLHIV know their status, 77% of those are on ARVs, and 92% of those are virally suppressed. To close the gaps, certain challenges still need to be overcome, including those associated with paediatric HIV management and care.

On Wednesday, 12 July a Family Care Day was held at Nqamakwe Community Health Centre (CHC) in the Amathole District Municipality of the Eastern Cape to address paediatric HIV management challenges – and the structural and societal barriers on the road to 95-95-95.

The event brought together key stakeholders, including the Department of Health (DOH) District Manager, the district HAST team, Ward Councillors, Old Mutual, AIDS Healthcare Foundation, and Beyond Zero, all united in their efforts to improve paediatric and adolescent HIV care in a district which is struggling to make significant progress against targets.

Among the challenges:

  • Case finding among children and men
  • Linkage to treatment for all age groups
  • Viral load suppression among children under 10 years (currently at 77%)
  • Mother-to-child transmission rates leading to new child infections

A big part of the day focused on interacting with the community, raising awareness and delivering services. CHC Case Officers and Community Health Workers successfully recalled 40 of 48 children on antiretroviral therapy (ART), 14 clients received HIV testing services (HTS), Professional Nurses (PNs) and Medical Officers provided treatment and specialised care for clients with unsuppressed viral loads, while PNs led adherence counselling sessions for clients with upcoming return dates. Youngsters were also empowered through a fun and engaging “Snakes and Ladders” game, designed to educate children about treatment adherence, peer influence and family support.

Importantly, the event also established a Youth Care group for adolescents living with HIV. This group will help motivate and support newly diagnosed children and adolescents struggling with viral load (VL) suppression. Progress on VL suppression will be monitored through a Quality Improvement (QI) project.

The Family Care Day at Nqamakwe CHC highlighted the power of collective action and collaboration in tackling paediatric HIV management challenges. By addressing case finding, improving linkage to care, enhancing viral load suppression, and preventing mother-to-child transmission, the Amathole district is making meaningful strides towards achieving the 95-95-95 targets. All stakeholders remain committed to a brighter future for children and adolescents living with HIV in the region.

Skinner Clinic: KP Friendly Public Health Services Arrive in Tshwane!

TB HIV Care’s PWID Programme celebrated the launch of the Centre of Excellence, a key population-friendly health services centre at Skinner Clinic, Tshwane District Hospital, on Tuesday, 30 May 2023.

The new centre will ensure vulnerable populations, including PWID/PWUD, MSM and female sex workers have easy access to friendly, inclusive and non-judgemental healthcare services. These key populations face heightened risk of HIV transmission and STIs compared to the general population, largely due to various structural, socio-cultural and behavioural factors.

The launch allowed for candid dialogue between Gauteng Health MEC Nomantu Nkomo-Ralehoko, valued partners and service users (representing various key populations), which not only shed light on the challenges faced by key populations – but also explored potential solutions.

TB HIV Care’s Site Manager, Phumzile Mngomezulu, delivered a comprehensive speech highlighting the PWID Programme’s intricacies and the tailor-made harm reduction strategies employed to prevent and manage HIV among people who inject drugs. The programme’s profound impact in Tshwane and the collaborative relationship with the district were also emphasised. In attendance were members of the TB HIV Care team, including peer educators, a peer coordinator and three service users. Importantly, the service users were given a platform to address the MEC directly, sharing their challenges in accessing services at public health facilities.

The MEC attentively responded to the challenges raised by each key population and reiterated the support that Skinner Clinic, as the Centre of Excellence, will provide. The event marked the successful commencement of key population-friendly services at Skinner Clinic, thanks to our partners’ continuous support and commitment. Through training, mentoring, sensitisation efforts, and the implementation of effective service referral systems, the clinic is fully dedicated to meeting the unique needs of vulnerable groups.

Launching the Key Populations Friendly Service Centre at Skinner Clinic was a significant milestone, promising a brighter future for key populations who can now access the care and support they deserve.