The Anova Health Institute, with various other organisations, have launched a bold awareness campaign aimed at encouraging Men who Sleep with other Men (MSM) to get tested for HIV and know their status.
Under the theme, We are Braver together, the campaign strives to drastically increase HIV testing among the MSM community.
Scores of Khayelitsha residents converged at the Khayelitsha Mall for the launch. The organisation is also hoping to dismiss the myths associated with HIV.
They aim to link men’s health clinical services in the public sector with independent clinicians.
The organisation believes that by encouraging people to know their status, it would enable those who test positive to get treatment as soon as possible. And that can radically reduce the chance of an HIV-positive person passing the virus on to others.
Anova’s Outreach programme manager, Sizwe Suka said their mission was to urge people to practice safe sex and live a healthy lifestyle.
He said this was a national campaign and in the next few weeks they would be visiting different provinces preaching the message of safe sex.
Mr Suka explained that the campaign was aiming, since September, to conduct 10 000 HIV tests before the end of the year.
He said he viewed the MSM group, gay men as well as lesbians, as a vulnerable population for HIV infection and transmission.
He said they were delighted to know that from September onward, any HIV positive person would be able to start antiretroviral treatment as soon as they were diagnosed.
Mr Suka explained that unlike in the past where patients had to wait for their CD4 count, which measures the strength of the immune system, to decline and reach a certain stage before they could receive the treatment.
He said many people were still reluctant to do an HIV test and it is because they fear victimisation from the community. He said the fight against the scourge of HIV needs to be a daily fight until such a day where young and old people can talk about HIV in public without a fear of being stigmatised.
“We hope to reach our target and we also aim to host another awareness campaign to educate people this diseases. We are encouraging the MSM group to embrace who they are and we are also making the city know that there are such people in our communities,”
Accountant manager at Foxp2, Thulani Mahlangu, said the campaign sought to ensure that the MSM community can access medical treatment within a supportive and non-judgmental environment. He said research had revealed that the HIV epidemic was being driven by people who didn’t know that they were positive and those who were positive but not undergoing treatment.
Mr Mahlangu said they applauded the government’s Universal Test and Treat (UTT) programme which entails the roll out of universal HIV testing in order to diagnose people living with HIV and initiate antiretroviral treatment immediately should it be required. “We welcome the implementation of UTT as a means of fighting HIV in South Africa and we urge South Africans to know their HIV statues. We are pleased that people came out in numbers to test and we can only encourage them to educate one another about HIV. We are of the believe that the government can never win this battle of HIV alone and it needs us as the whole to bolster their efforts,” he said.
An excited Ntombekhaya Mgandela said this was not the first time she tested for HIV and she feels that it is important for one to know their HIV status.
The 40-year-old said people are still reluctant to go for HIV tests, adding that people fear rejection from the community.
“I’m are glad that there are such organisations that educate us and I personally encourage them to visit township communities frequently to run these awareness campaigns,” she said.