Healthcare workers trained to avoid stigmatising HIV patients

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Health Minister Joe Phaahla.
Health Minister Joe Phaahla.
Jaco Marais/Gallo Images
  • The national health department says healthcare workers are being trained on how to avoid stigma and prejudice when dealing with people with HIV/Aids.
  • The department is training healthcare workers in all provinces. 
  •  Health Minister Joe Phaahla says the national HIV prevalence is about 53% among female sex workers, 25.7% among men who have sex with men, and 21% among people who inject drugs.

Healthcare workers in the public sector's HIV/Aids response unit are usually the first people patients see.  

To reduce stigma and to encourage patients to take their HIV treatment - antiretroviral therapy (ART) - the national health department is training healthcare workers as part of its Welcome Back Campaign. 

Speaking during the Treatment Action Campaign's 7th Congress on Monday in Johannesburg, Health Minister Dr Joe Phaahla said the country had made strides in the fight against HIV/Aids. 

He said the department started the campaign to support the re-engagement and retention of people living with HIV who were diagnosed but never initiated on ART or those whose treatment was interrupted. 

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“Our Welcome Back Campaign is implemented alongside the 2020 revised adherence guidelines for HIV, TB and non-communicable diseases, standard operating procedure especially the tracing and recall and re-engagement to enhance the return to care, but mostly improving our retention in care,” said Phaahla. 

He said the department had completed training employees in KwaZulu-Natal, Gauteng and Mpumalanga.

The remaining provinces would complete the training in the next two months, Phaahla said.  

“This training seeks to ensure that all healthcare workers and everyone who provides services for key populations does so without stigma, discrimination, or prejudice. We prioritise a precision prevention approach for key and priority populations, including the LGBTQI [community], sex workers, men who have sex with men." 

He said people living with HIV should be part of the campaign for it to succeed.

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"We have already begun discussions with the leadership of people living with HIV [such as] Ritshidze [a project developed by people living with HIV and activists] and SANAC [South African National Aids Council] to convene dedicated training… to ensure that your involvement is profound.

"This will strengthen the coordination of the Welcome Back Campaign between our health facilities and community structures and demystify what is being misconstrued when clients who miss their appointment are re-engaged in care.”

Phaahla said the national HIV prevalence is estimated at 53% among female sex workers, 25.7% among men who have sex with men, and 21% among people who inject drugs. 

“Although no national HIV prevalence estimates exist, programmatic data indicates HIV positivity, as high as 49% among transgender populations,” the minister added. 

Phaahla said that because of Covid-19, the country had to develop innovative ways to ensure HIV patients still received their medication. The department implemented a three-month refill of medication. He said the department was now preparing for a six-month refill programme. 

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