SOUTH AFRICA: Business to boost funding, monitoring of national VCT campaign

Photo: Keishamaza Rukikaire/IRIN
South Africa's campaign still suffers from weak pre-test counselling - about 500,000 people were counselled for HIV testing but never tested as part of the initiative
JOHANNESBURG, 19 October 2010 (PlusNews) - South African business leaders have banded together to introduce new ways to finance and monitor the world’s most ambitious national HIV testing campaign.

Since the April 2010 launch of the campaign, which aims to test 15 million people over 12 months, about 2.8 million people have answered the call to be tested for HIV, according to South African National AIDS Council deputy chairperson Mark Heywood. However, in an August 2010 meeting of the Rural Doctors Association of Southern Africa in Swaziland, Heywood noted that data surrounding the campaign remained problematic and often failed to reflect the results of testing drives organized by the business sector.

In response to the call for better monitoring and evaluation (M&E), the South African Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS (SABCOHA) has launched an online reporting tool, Bizwell, geared at private sector providers of voluntary HIV testing and counselling (VCT) services.

A small number of companies and their medical service providers, including mining giant AngloAmerican, car maker BMW and SABMiller breweries, have already begun to input VCT data onto the site, said SABCOHA strategic partnership executive Liesel Heynike.

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The website collects statistics according to categories such as sub-district, gender and industry that are aligned with government data needs, and asks business to record levels of risk perception among individuals tested for HIV, and where those that test positive are referred for care.

The tool may not only fill in the gaps on private sector contributions to the campaign noted by Heywood, but could also be used to strengthen reporting and services within the public sector.

“We hope to be able to see where there is a high demand [for testing], especially within the public health sector,” SABOCHA’s Heynike told IRIN/PlusNews. “[We want to know] how many of these employees are being referred to public sector health facilities and if we can provide useful information to government, and partner with government in linking supply and demand more effectively.”

According to preliminary results from a survey conducted among about 30 of SABCOHA's member companies, 65 percent had conducted VCT activities within the last six months. Natalie Mayet, SABCOHA chairperson and general manager of occupational health for BMW South Africa, said the 159 workplace clinics and almost 1,200 nurses reported by this small sample of the consortium’s more than 100 members could be utilized to help South Africa reach its national testing goal.

SABCOHA is compiling the data into a national VCT report that will be presented to government in November, said Heynike.

New funding mechanism introduced

The business consortium has also introduced a new community fund to help corporate South Africa foot the bill for its planned contribution to the national campaign within a climate of decreased international funding for HIV/AIDS.

Barend Peterson, chairperson of De Beers Consolidated Mines, said government is banking on the private sector to test at least two million people as part of the national campaign at an estimated cost of US$727,000.

''We’re embarking on a campaign that grows by the minute, by the day, by the person, but the funding pool is shrinking''
According to SABCOHA CEO Brad Mears, the funding mechanism will allow companies wanting to contribute, the opportunity to provide short-term funding better tailored to the rapidly changing realities of HIV in South Africa. Recipients of the funding would be accountable to both SABCOHA and national HIV structures, he said.

“At some point, South Africa needs to move away from the ‘bail out’ method of funding our response, towards more long-term sustainable ways of developing infrastructure and human capacity,” said Mears, adding that SABCOHA plans to channel some of its Round 11 funding from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria into the new resource.

SABCOHA is currently finalizing initial contributions to the fund of R5.3 million (US$761,236) from several companies, including mobile telephone service provider MTN.

Challenges remain

Heywood praised the accomplishments of South Africa's national HIV testing campaign which has newly diagnosed about 490,000 people (17 percent of those who have tested) as HIV-positive and helped place about 170,000 people on treatment in its first five months.

“We’re in a position to say that this VCT campaign wasn’t just an empty promise, it wasn’t just a political ploy by an overly enthusiastic new minister of health,” Heywood told IRIN/PlusNews.

But he added that challenges for the campaign remained, including the quality and monitoring of pre- and post-test counselling services; weak public-private sector coordination; and a lack of involvement by the country’s powerful trade unions.

“There’s a large gap between me, who went for HIV testing two weeks ago and was given two minutes worth of counseling, and the director-general [of the health department] who went for testing and was kept for 40 minutes,” he said.

Speaking at the SABCOHA Community Fund’s unveiling in Johannesburg on 18 October, he cautioned that perhaps the greatest challenge to the VCT campaign remained funding.

“We’re embarking on a campaign that grows by the minute, by the day, by the person, but the funding pool is shrinking,” he said. “Funds now have to go to evidence[-based interventions]. In this epidemic, we fund people and organizations out of charity and we can’t do that because funding the wrong people and wrong organizations - whether because they’re not accountable or they’re inefficient - shrinks the pie for everyone.”


Theme (s): HIV/AIDS (PlusNews),

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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