Saturday 1 December is World Aids Day. While HIV is a manageable disease, approximately half of the estimated seven million people in South Africa who are HIV positive are not receiving care or anti-retroviral treatment (ART). Many do not realise that they have the virus, and those who do, struggle to take time off work to queue at public clinics for doctors’ visits. An innovative programme called the GP Care Cell, now active in the city of Tshwane is changing this.
“We have set up networks of private doctors who are based in and around the city. Anybody who has never been on ART can come in for testing and, if they test positive, access a year of free HIV care,” says Hellen Nkwagatse of PPO Serve, who manages the programme.
The GP Care Cell is a collaboration between National Department of Health (DoH), Gauteng Provincial DoH, the Foundation for Professional Development (FPD) and PPO Serve. It is co-funded by DoH and the American President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief fund (PEPFAR) through USAID.
The public can find the nearest doctor to their home or workplace by dialling *131*3041# on their mobile devices at no cost to them. They can visit the practice, get tested and treated – at their convenience. Results are confidential and patient privacy is safeguarded. Doctors do not suffer any loss of income, as the cost of all blood tests and medications are funded by the Gauteng Department of Health and consultation fees are covered by PEPFAR through USAID.
While many non-profit organisations offer free HIV tests, they mostly refer HIV positive patients on to the public sector for treatment; “Although they offer good HIV care and ART free, public clinics have strained resources and a visit usually requires queuing for hours,” says Nkwagatse.
The GP Care Cell is an alternative, making care available from selected medical practices that meet high standards so that as many people living with HIV as possible can access ART; “This is best both for their own health and to help prevent the spread of the virus,” she says.
After a year of free HIV treatment, patients are enrolled with the state’s Central Chronic Medicine Dispensing and Distribution (CCMDD) programme, in which they collect their medications from a designated local pick-up point. They can continue with private care at their own expense or transfer back to a state facility for bi-annual clinical consultations. “The first year is critical for adherence to treatment – after that, many people are able to carry on with managing their illness,” says Nkwagatse.
The GP Care Cell network has been running for six months as a pilot project and has performed 1 593 tests, of which 326 clients were put on treatment. Roll-out of a second network in the city of Ekurhuleni is under way.
This is one of a number of health projects run by PPO Serve each of which is focussed on the best use of medical resources across private and public sectors; “Our model of value-based healthcare, driven by teamwork and collaboration, are exemplars of what an NHI could look like,” says Nkwagatse.
Distributed by Be-cause Integrated Communications
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Distributed on behalf of PPO Serve
Co-founder: Dr Brian Ruff