Tamar Kahn, Science and Health Editor - Business Day
About 5,54-million South Africans are HIV-positive, according to government estimates. Venter said about four-fifths of these people were unaware of their status, and so did not get appropriate medical advice in the early stages of their disease. Most HIV-positive South Africans sought medical help when they were already extremely sick, he said.
The Human Sciences Research Councils HIV household survey found two-thirds of HIV-positive respondents who were unaware of their status did not believe they were at risk, he said.
Many medical schemes offered incentives to members to take HIV tests and join disease-management programmes, but the schemes conceded take-up was disappointing, said Venter.
Medical schemes need to be much more aggressive about it (HIV testing). It makes complete business sense.
While many activists argued mandatory testing would leave vulnerable people open to discrimination, Venter suggested this approach could be used in a context where people had access to appropriate counselling and treatment.
All medical scheme members had access to antiretroviral medicines, which delayed the progression of HIV, as the disease was among the chronic conditions medical schemes were required by law to cover. This was in sharp contrast to the public sector, where latest government figures showed more than 32000 people clinically eligible for medicines were still waiting to start treatment.
Companies should set testing targets, with accompanying tax breaks, he said. Venter also suggested home HIV test kits should be made available to make it easier for people to know their status.
SAs HIV-prevention programmes were a dismal failure with about 500000 new infections a year. Much more creative thinking is needed, he said. Governments A (abstain), B (be faithful) and C (use a condom) message was simplistic and irrelevant to many people.
The epidemic could not be turned around unless the rate of new infections slowed, he said. Government was enrolling about 100000 patients on its AIDS-treatment programme each year, leaving another 400000 to die.
I keep saying to our policy makers its a disaster, he said.