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!