Health services go mobile | News24

The Desmond Tutu Health Foundation (DTHF) brings its services closer to residents of the Klipfontein Mitchell Plain Substructure (KMPSS).

Focusing on HIV/AIDS prevention with its Fast PrEP initiative, the foundation launched a two-to-three-year study in Hanover Park on Thursday, but the study will serve various areas of the basin.

“Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is a chemical preservative. It’s a once-a-day pill that helps prevent HIV,” says project leader Dr Justine Stewart.

PrEP can only be given to people who test negative for HIV.

The service is offered free of charge and the mobile buses are operated by licensed doctors.

For the purposes of the study, women between the ages of 15 and 29 constitute the target group, as well as their sexual partners. Some same-sex male participants will have access to the same services as the women in the study.

These include HIV testing, pregnancy tests and a holistic approach to family planning.

Support is also available in the form of peer counselors and HIV counsellors.

Stewart says there is a lack of acceptance in the community when it comes to sex.

The initiative will be carried out in collaboration with the Western Cape Department of Health.

KMPSS spokesperson for the department, Monique Johnstone, says, “The Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation has a long-standing working relationship in Klipfontein and Mitchell’s Plain Substructure and has initiated a study of HIV among adolescent girls and young people women a few years ago. With the department rolling out PrEP to high-risk HIV-negative individuals, DTHF was approved to roll out this model in KMPSS.

Johnstone says this project aims to implement PrEP among the at-risk and sexually active population in KMPSS to reduce the incidence of HIV.

“This would be through increased SRH (sexual and reproductive health) services and engagement, uptake and effective use of PrEP among sexually active adolescent girls and young women, their sexual partners and other key populations in Cape Town.”

She says the intervention also seeks to create a model for having a steady supply and increasing the use of oral PrEP through community awareness, specific messaging and PrEP/SRH support services.

KMPSS service areas include Mitchell’s Plain, Greater Athlone Area, Hanover Park, Gugulethu and Crossroads, among others.

Tutu’s colorful test trucks will work in these areas on a rotational basis, Stewart says, and will not be a one-time initiative.

The initiative includes monthly follow-up visits for 28-day platelet refills.

“PrEP is well tested. This is a behavioral study. We want to get as much PrEP into communities as possible. This study is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in the United States of America (USA) and we will be here for another two and a half, three years,” she says.

The foundation has an established footprint in Nyanga, Browns Farm and Khayelitsha regions, and the necessary permissions for the study having been granted by the Ministry of Health, the need for this intervention in KMPSS prompted the launch of this initiative.

“The zones (in the township) have a well-established service because people there are more open to talking about HIV exposure and sex. Here there are different challenges. Drugs, gangsterism and crime, and people don’t talk about sex,” she says.

Parents are very reluctant to acknowledge that their children are having sex, especially unprotected sex, she says.

The foundation’s HIV adviser, Vuyisa Dumile, agrees that stigma prevents many people from seeking treatment and testing.

“In the townships, people come to use the services without being asked. Many come with problems rather than questions and we are able to help them,” he says.

“In this community, there is still stigma that holds people back, but we are trying to break that stigma.”

Community worker Glenn Hans says these initiatives go a long way in promoting health.

“There is a perception that people in Hanover Park don’t care about their health and these partnerships are helping to raise health awareness. Awareness is needed in the community,” he says.

When it comes to treatment, Hans says no one can be too confident that PrEP is a tool to fight HIV.

Some of the common problems include broken condoms, unprotected sex following intoxication, and having multiple sex partners.

Stewart says having multiple sexual partners is one of the main concerns and that PrEP helps with HIV exposure.

“Our counselors also help the girls to negotiate. There’s pressure to ‘show me you love me’, which means sex and we offer ways for them to negotiate that, rather than give in to the pressure,” she says.

Dumile says the best time to seek help with PrEP is immediately after a potential exposure.

HIV is one of the three most treated diseases in the KMPSS.

Johnstone says there is a slightly higher uptake of HIV treatment in the Klipfontein area, as opposed to Mitchell’s Plain.

“The department is always aware of the stigma, and this particular model encourages a decentralized service to access PrEP, not just in facilities, but also in facilities and community spaces,” says Johnstone.

“We encourage all communities to know their status and seek HIV testing at the nearest health facility.”

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