HIV testing programme falls victim to Covid-19

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Fourways-based non-profit organisation Witkoppen Clinic will be discontinuing its community HIV testing service from October 1 Picture: Shutterstock
Fourways-based non-profit organisation Witkoppen Clinic will be discontinuing its community HIV testing service from October 1 Picture: Shutterstock

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Fourways-based non-profit organisation Witkoppen Clinic will be discontinuing its community HIV testing service from October 1.

The service, which saw 80 000 people getting tested in 2019, was started five years ago and went into the informal settlements of Johannesburg’s Region A, including Diepsloot, Kya Sands, Ivory Park, Lion Park and Rabie Ridge.

“It was a very, very tough decision,” Dr Jean Basset, director of Witkoppen Clinic, told City Press.

“The economic climate has been tough [on us] and on our donors too, and sometimes people have to make hard decisions. It’s now those knock-on decisions that we to have to make.”

The economic climate has been tough [on us] and on our donors too, and sometimes people have to make hard decisions
Dr Jean Basset, director of Witkoppen Clinic

Basset explained that the clinic had to cancel all of its fundraising activities for the 2019/20 financial year which were planned for dates after Covid-19 hit local shores. She said all reserve funds had to be allocated to servicing patients during the pandemic.

To ensure the clinic’s organisational and financial stability for the next financial year, Basset said they would need to retrench 126 employees, 92 of whom work on the HIV testing programme.

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Explaining how the programme works, she said: “We had numerous vehicles hired and went out every day of the week. People would walk up to the site, where we had set up gazebos and had quiet and confidential spaces to do the testing. We also had staff walking around with loud hailers informing people of the testing we were doing.

“If a person tested positive, we could link them to immediate treatment if they wanted to start treatment and that had an immediate impact on their health.”

Basset said of the 80 000 people they tested in the past year, 2 200 tested positive for HIV and 75% of them went onto treatment.

While Witkoppen staff will no longer be able to provide HIV testing within communities, the clinic, which has been operational for 74 years, will remain open to care for the community’s health needs. HIV testing and antiretroviral treatment will still be available to those who visit the clinic.

We are still hopeful that funders will avail themselves
Dr Jean Basset, director of Witkoppen Clinic

However, Basset said they were holding out hope for possible funders to come forward so that they keep the programme running.

Of the staff being retrenched, Basset said she hoped that they would be absorbed by other non-governmental organisations or even through community contact tracing projects for Covid-19 as they have experience working within informal settlements and were trained to offer vital services.

READ: In-depth: Vaginal ring ushers in new era in HIV prevention

“We care about our staff and understand how important income is at this time. We are still hopeful that funders will avail themselves.”


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