Man on roller-coaster ride after wrong HIV diagnosis

'No long-term effects from taking ARVs while negative'

Solomon Mthana, 50, said he suffered mental and emotional trauma because of the misdiagnosis
Solomon Mthana, 50, said he suffered mental and emotional trauma because of the misdiagnosis

An Eastern Cape man who was misdiagnosed with HIV then put on ARVs only to be told later that he was in fact negative said the experience has been an emotional and psychological roller-coaster ride for him and his family.

He had earlier been misdiagnosed through a rapid response HIV/Aids Test kit. 

Solomon Mthana, 50, said he suffered mental and emotional trauma because of the misdiagnosis and that the medication took a toll on his body.

He has since threatened to sue the Department of Health as well as the hospital for personal injury.

The bungle began when Mthana visited Settlers Hospital in Makhanda in March to have a lump in his head removed through surgery.  

Doctors took blood samples for testing at the laboratory to understand the underlying causes of the lump.  

They also insisted on doing a rapid response HIV Test which gives instant results. The Test found Mthana was HIV-positive, which led to him getting counselling before he was put on ARV treatment.  

The private security guard told Sowetan that the drugs took a toll on his body, and that he suffered mental and emotional trauma because of the misdiagnosis.  

“I was struggling to get used to the drugs. The first two weeks were the worst. I was vomiting constantly, had nausea and my body was often abnormally tired,” Mthana said. 

However, negative blood Test results from the lab only came back in April after Mthana had been taking the treatment for over a month and learning to live with a non-existing virus in his body.  

He said he suspected something was off the day the doctors broke the news to him. Nurses, he said, were unusually too nice to him.  

“Around four nurses received me when I arrived at the facility and were too polite. I have never seen them like that. They even offered me tea. There was also a therapist. By that time, I knew there was something suspicious. Then the doctor came and broke this news,” Mthana said.  

The hospital offered Mthana counselling on the spot.  

The father of two said the latest news that he was in fact HIV negative came while he was battling to come to terms with the initial results which turned out to be false.  

“I had disclosed to my partner and some of the members of my family about my HIV-positive status which I was then told later it never existed. It’s been an emotional and psychological roller-coaster ride for me and my family. We have been taken to hell and back,” said Mthana.   

The Eastern Cape health department has blamed the rapid response Test kit for the false results and also apologised to Mthana.

Department spokesperson Mkhululi Ndamase said the Test kits which give immediate results are not 100% accurate.  

“It is important to note that HIV tests kits have a 99% accuracy rate, meaning there is a possibility of false positive cases. The Test was done in line with protocol,” said Ndamase. 

“We can confirm that the patient is known to Settlers Hospital. The patient was called, and redress was done and accepted after the clinical processes taken were explained to him,” he said.

Ndamase said that no one was to blame for the incident and that there won’t be any consequential action taken against anyone at the hospital. 

While Mthana is worried that taking and stopping the drugs may lead to long-term effects, former president and CEO of the SA Medical Research Council, Prof Glenda Gray, said he need not worry. 

Gray said HIV treatment in an HIV-negative person does not lead to long-term complications. She said ARVs are safe and are also given to negative people to prevent them from getting HIV. 

“There is no long-term sequelae because of taking and stopping the drugs. In the older days, we didn't have ARVs, we gave pregnant women who were negative AZT, 3TC and a single dose of Naviropine for three months to prevent mother-to-child infection and they would get off the treatment safely. There is no long-term sequelae or long run effects,” Gray said.    

She also said that at a global level, in many parts of the world, men who have sex with other men are given the ARV pills for years to prevent them from getting infected regardless of their negative status.

Gray said patients diagnosed with HIV commonly suffer from depression, anger and denial, adding that she understood Mthana's anger towards the hospital.

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