Young men 'must change attitudes' in the fight against HIV/Aids

Eshowe in northern KwaZulu-Natal has chalked up major success in the fight against HIV/Aids.
Eshowe in northern KwaZulu-Natal has chalked up major success in the fight against HIV/Aids.
Image: Jackie Clausen

If SA is to win the battle against HIV/Aids it needs young men to change their attitudes towards HIV testing and treatment.

The latest UNAids Global Aids Update report, released on Tuesday in the small KwaZulu-Natal town of Eshowe - believed to be the epicentre of the epidemic in SA - found that reaching young men for HIV testing and treatment services "is a major challenge".

Eshowe has become the "poster child" for UNAids thanks to the Bending the Curves HIV/TB project run by international medical humanitarian organisation Doctors Without Borders (MSF).

The MSF project has achieved the UNAids targets of 90-90-90, a year ahead of the 2020 deadline.

The 90–90–90 targets were launched in 2014 with the aim to diagnose 90% of all HIV-positive people, provide antiretroviral therapy for 90% of those diagnosed, and achieve viral suppression for 90% of those treated by 2020.

Thanks to the MSF project, Eshowe has surpassed the targets with results of 90-94-95 - 90% of people living with HIV know their status, 94% of those are on antiretroviral treatment and 95% of those have a suppressed viral load.

But men have proven a challenge, according to the report.

"This is despite a number of initiatives within the project that are pitched specifically at men, including a male clinic at a taxi rank and those focusing on voluntary medical male circumcision (VMMC).

"For the latter, recruitment and mobilisation are conducted in high schools and through community health agents, and transport is provided to and from weekend VMMC camps.

"In 2017, 2,133 boys were circumcised thanks to the project," said the report.

At the Eshowe launch deputy president David Mabuza praised the inroads MSF has made in the area.

"We are proud of the excellent work and the success rate achieved here in KwaZulu-Natal, especially in this place of Eshowe.

"We want encourage the province to continue with this great work and replicate this model in other districts. Let us replicate this great example throughout our country, as it represents the best practice model on the fight against HIV and Aids," he said.

The report found that one of the key factors of the project’s success has been the work of community health workers who provide services "across the cascade of care in both community settings and health-care anti-retroviral therapy initiation counselling, treatment planning CD4 monitoring and counselling".

"Between 2012 and 2016 these lay cadres performed the majority of all HIV testing and counselling in the area covered by the project."

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