Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

More work needs to be done to ensure men get tested for HIV, US global AIDS co-ordinator Deborah Birx said on Thursday, ahead of a planned trip to SA.

Birx heads up the US President’s Emergency Programme for AIDS Relief (Pepfar), which is the biggest international donor to SA’s HIV/AIDS initiatives. It has provided more than $6.25m to SA since 2004, and is expected to announce a significant new funding allocation to SA on December 2.

Globally, half of all HIV positive men aged between 15 years and 35 years did not know they were infected and were missing the opportunity to start early treatment, she said. “We need the people who perceive themselves to not be at risk for HIV to be tested for HIV today so we can get them treated before they develop the devastating ravages of a failed immune system,” she said.

Pepfar is one of the founding partners of the MenStar coalition, which is trying to find innovative ways to diagnose and treat more men in a number of countries, including SA.

SA has the world’s worst HIV epidemic and had an estimated   7.2-million people living with the disease in 2017, according to  UNAIDS. It also has the world’s biggest treatment programme, which reaches more than four-million state patients.

“If you look at the 90-90-90 targets in SA, and look at women versus men, its like two different countries. Men are less likely to be tested, come in later and sicker, are less likely to take their therapy and more likely to drop out of treatment programmes'' said Francois Venter, deputy executive director of the Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute..

Only 78.8% of HIV positive men knew their status, compared to 88.9% of women, according a 2017 household survey by the Human Sciences Research Council found 

The 90-90-90 targets are a UN initiative to try to end the global AIDS epidemic by 2030. It aims to ensure 90% of all people with HIV know their status, 90% of those who are diagnosed are on treatment, and that 90% of the people on therapy are virally suppressed.

Finding the “missing men”was vital if South Africa was to end the cycle of new infections, said Health Gap’s Lotti Rutter. “Service must directly target them and respond to their needs at facility level and in the community. Big donors such as Pepfar and the Global Fund need to listen to community groups on how to best deal with these challenges,” she said.