HIV testing and counselling services are to be integrated into provider-initiated health services to try and get more people tested for HIV in South Sudan. Since South Sudan’s independence in July 2011, a lot of progress has been made in bringing health services to the country after 30 years of civil war. However, still more needs to be done to alert people about HIV and to get them on treatment.
According to UNAIDS, there are an estimated 150,000 people living with HIV in South Sudan, and a mere nine percent of people eligible for treatment are on it, according to the WHO 2010 guidelines. In addition, only 13 percent of pregnant women accessed antiretroviral treatment for the prevention of mother-to-child transmission in 2010.
Knowledge of HIV in South Sudan is extremely low, with 45 percent of women aged 15-49 having ever heard of the virus. Many more are too scared to test because they think HIV is a death sentence and are unaware of the benefits of antiretroviral therapy.
HIV testing is the entry point to accessing HIV services. The more people that test for HIV, the greater the likelihood that people will access treatment and change behaviours to prevent onward transmission. Emmanuel Lino, Deputy Director at the Ministry of Health in charge of HIV services told UNAIDS: “While patients are meeting the surgeon, the dermatologist or the physician, doctors can provide information on HIV and the need to test… It’s like we are normalizing HIV voluntary counselling and testing.”
As the majority of people in South Sudan are unaware they are living with HIV, it is hoped that this initiative will alert more people to their status and help them to live healthy lives.