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HIV testing an imperative - Call to arms for healthcare practitioners

29 November 2007 Prime Cure Health

“The time has come for all healthcare practitioners throughout South Africa to join hands in the fight against HIV/Aids,” says Dr Caroline Maslo, head of Clinical Governance of Prime Cure Health HIVCare and an internationally published author and renowned expert in the management of HIV.

“We’ve got to take our call to arms to the people that can truly do something meaningful in stemming the tide of HIV infection. We are therefore no longer only urging healthcare professionals to spread the word that HIV/Aids, if unchecked, can result in untimely death. In fact, we’re going a great deal further with our ‘call to arms’ to all doctors, specialists and even nursing professionals. We’re asking that they actively encourage all patients to undergo HIV testing. We no longer have the luxury of testing only those that are ‘possibly’ at risk of contracting the illness. What we need to do is to test each and every patient on a regular basis. When testing a patient it is important that the spouse and children are included. Nobody should be isolated in any way,” says Dr Maslo.

This clarion call comes on the eve of the release of the 2007 annual HIV/AIDS report by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS). It reveals that Southern Africa remains the worst-hit area in the world, accounting for more than one-third of all new infections and deaths globally. According to the report some 1,6-million people have died of AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa in the past year while more than 15% of adults were living with HIV in eight Southern African countries, namely South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

“There is no discounting the devastating impact that HIV/Aids has had on the people of Southern Africa. While individuals and families throughout the Continent will count the cost of the disease till the ‘end of days’, even the corporate world has not emerged unscathed,” says Dr Maslo.

“In order to arrest this devastation of human life, the management of HIV/Aids has had to evolve continuously. The most recent, highly significant change that is being promoted by Prime Cure Health HIVCare, is the absorption of HIV/Aids into a more holistic approach whereby the disease is no longer tested for, treated or managed in isolation. Perhaps this same approach to wellness needs to be adopted by family healthcare practitioners who could screen patients for diabetes, hypertension, cholesterol and HIV/Aids simultaneously.”

While tremendous and laudable gains have been made as a result of HIV (VCT) testing in the workplace it has been found that this approach in isolation is no longer sufficient. “Apart from the fact that isolating HIV/Aids is sending the wrong message to employees, specially to those in dire need, it is vital to remember that it really is only one of many healthcare problems that can impact on the employees of a company,” asserts Dr Maslo.

“After several discussions and careful review of the staff wellness profiles of a number of large corporates we have identified a pressing need for a more holistic and comprehensive approach to wellbeing that automatically includes HIV/Aids testing and management. The new programmes, which have been embraced by a number of foreward thinking companies, involve the implementation of total health screenings and wellness programmes incorporating anything from HIV/Aids counselling and disease management to cholesterol and hypertension awareness drives and management.
Statistics clearly indicate that companies can no longer avoid implementing a rigorous approach to health and wellbeing. The integration of HIV/Aids programmes with an overall comprehensive wellness plan is becoming a necessity. “While there are companies that are still questioning the need and perceived expenditure involved in this approach, indications are that it holds significant long-term financial benefits for those companies that adapt early on to a more pro-active healthcare testing and management stance. Considering the high expense of recruitment, staff training, intellectual capital and the increasing shortage of skilled and experienced labour there is really nothing to argue with,” concludes Dr Maslo.

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