Coronavirus in SA: HIV-positives are skipping treatment and drastic drop in testing

A high percentage of South Africans that are HIV-positive are missing their clinic appointments to collect their medication and there has also been a drastic drop in HIV testing due to infection fears during lockdown.

Explains Professor Ian Sanne, CEO of health NGO Right to Care, which is supporting the Department of Health with its coronavirus response, “HIV positive people who are undiagnosed, or who are not adhering to their medication, have increased risk of worse outcomes should they contract the coronavirus. South Africa has the largest HIV epidemic worldwide and HIV patients who are not on treatment and who have a low immune system, can be at risk for Covid-19 infection with a higher fatality rate.”  

“Data from the districts we are supporting shows increasing numbers of missed appointments to collect treatment. It is critical for patients on chronic medication to continue collecting their medication and taking it,” he explains.

HIV-positive people need to adhere to their treatment regimens to ensure that their immune system is strong enough should they contract Covid-19. Please continue to go to your clinic for your appointments or to test for HIV. Professor Salim Abdool Karim, who chairs the government’s advisory committee on Covid-19, also indicated his concern about HIV-positive people who are not receiving antiretroviral therapy (ART) and who have a low CD4 count (below 300/350).

As clinics are considered essential services, patients are able to go there during lockdown. You could also call your clinic for a refill. The usual social distancing rules apply – to stand or be seated at least one metre apart. Clinics have now been set up so that Covid-19 prevention is a priority to reduce the risk of patients and healthcare workers being infected. Patients who may have Covid-19 are separated.

Other medication collection points

The National Department of Health has a service called centralised chronic medicines dispensing and distribution (CCMDD), a free service that helps people get their government-issued chronic medication more easily outside of a clinic. To use the various collection options, patients must be registered for the service. Registered patients can collect their medication from convenient pick-up points like Dis-Chem, Clicks, Pick n Pay, community halls, private doctors or even a local spaza shop. You pick what place is most convenient for you.

Right ePharmacy has two solutions for public healthcare patients who want to stay away from clinics. In conjunction with the Department of Health, innovative and simple-to-use Collect & Go smart lockers are being fast-tracked at 70 locker sites in Gauteng, Mpumalanga and the Free State. Patients will be able to collect their medication here from May.

Collect & Go locations are close to communities, transport routes and areas where people live and work.

Patients can ask to be registered now for Collect & Go at their healthcare facility if their condition is stable. They will be given two months’ supply of medication and provided with the date for a first Collect & Goexperience. Patients will need to return to their healthcare facility for a follow-up visit every six months and will be reminded to do so via SMS. You can find your nearest Collect & Go here:

Alternatively, you can register in the same way for your nearest ATM pharmacy. These advanced pharmacies are located in:

  • Soweto: Baragwanath Mall in Diepsloot and Ndofaya Mall in Meadowlands
  • Diepsloot: Bambanani Mall
  • Alexandra: Alex Plaza and
  • Bloemfontein: Twin City Mall in Mangaung (Free-State)

The Right ePharmacy help line number is 0801 112 228.

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