NATIONAL NEWS - Witkoppen Clinic in Johannesburg is calling for South Africans to know their HIV status and initiate treatment as soon as possible, to protect themselves and others from Covid-19.
The non-profit organisation, which provides primary healthcare to almost 10,000 patients per month, says it has seen a decline in the number of people getting tested for HIV since the coronavirus was confirmed in the country.
The clinic, situated in Fourways, services many communities including Diepsloot, Msawawa and the surrounding areas.
“Our mobile clinics usually provide HIV testing to about 450 patients per day. At this time, a lot of people in these communities are approaching testing stations looking for masks and hand sanitisers, but turning down HIV testing – they’re more worried about Covid-19,” said director at Witkoppen Clinic Jean Basset.
“While it’s great to see that people are taking the virus seriously, it is still critical to know your HIV status so that you can get onto treatment, if necessary.”
HIV-positive people not on treatment could be among the worst affected by the spread of Covid-19.
Research around Covid-19 shows that those who suffer from pre-existing health conditions which compromise their immune systems – such as HIV, diabetes or hypertension – are more at risk for opportunistic infections, according to the World Health Organisation. If infected, people with poorly controlled HIV may suffer from more severe forms of Covid-19.
In South Africa, 7.8 million people are living with HIV, of which 2.5 million do not regularly take antiretroviral therapy (ART), or do not realise they are positive.
“The best way to protect yourself from Covid-19 is to know your HIV status,” says Basset. “Knowing your status gives you a chance to get onto ART immediately. ART suppresses HIV to very low levels, and helps your immune system stay strong, which is critical to preventing a Covid-19 infection.”
To manage the spread of Covid-19, Witkoppen Clinic has set up a special unit dedicated to addressing the disease and is screening every person who enters the premises. The clinic is working with the National Institute of Communicable Diseases to ensure staff are equipped to handle the impact of the Covid-19, while continuing to give necessary medical care to community members.