Testing/VCT/Eastern Cape:
East Cape News, 01 October 2002, East Cape Not Ready to Give Free HIV/Aids Tests Despite National Advertising, Haru Mutasa

Following a massive national advertising campaign offering free HIV/AIDS testing to the public, 50 percent of Eastern Cape clinics are not ready to provide this crucial service.

Health MEC Dr Bevan Goqwana told ECN: "Even though it has been advertised we have to remember that the Eastern Cape is a big province. It will naturally take time before all our clinics are equipped and ready to offer the service." Eastern Cape HIV/AIDS statistics, which have only been conducted on pregnant women, estimate infection to be around 21,7 percent. This figure excludes men, children and women not pregnant.

Provincial director for HIV/AIDS Nomalanga Makwedini told ECN: "There are 600 nurses that need to be trained on counselling skills and testing methods before the programme can be fully implemented. The government has so far trained 18 trainers who are currently training nurses in the provinces' clinics. We have even approached NGOs to assist in training. We can not say when exactly all Eastern Cape clinics will be able to provide the free service." Once the programme is complete and all Eastern Cape clinics are able to offer free HIV tests and counselling, the public will be able to ask for tests on demand.

Makwedini said: "Of course pre and post counselling will be necessary, which is why we have to make sure that health workers are properly trained to advise HIV patients on their options." R10,4 million has been budgeted for the national HIV/AIDS testing and counselling campaign. Grahamstown's Raphael Aids Care centre director Jabu van Niekerk said: It is a good initiative but I don't think the capacity to do that is there." "It would be wonderful if they (the department) could do it (give free tests)." Raphael offers free HIV tests on Monday afternoons because "that's all we have the resources for." Raphael is sponsored by APERT (Aids Prevention Education and Research Trust) for the building of nurses' offices while Rhodes University is sponsoring the nurses' salary for six months.

They have only done HIV testing for three weeks and have "roughly seen and councilled 40 people". Van Niekerk expects the demand for testing to increase "especiallly since a member of staff spoke about the service on the radio." "People come on days other than Monday and there is some attrition. It is difficult to summon up the courage to go for a test only to find that it's not a continuous service." "If I went to a clinic in Grahamstown today and asked for an Aids test, it's not likely that my request can be met. They are swamped and have to prioritise their own capacity." Jurg Richner, chairperson of the Themba Santa Hospital said they provide free testing for in-patients. Forty percent of the TB patients are HIV positive.