Know your HIV status, get treatment, live better
Discovery Health Medical Scheme (DHMS) offers HIV-infected members complete HIV care, including treatment and monitoring to improve their health and wellbeing. This is as the World AIDS Day 2022 campaign urges HIV testing and treatment to reduce the inequalities that increase AIDS.
World AIDS Day is observed every year on 1 December. This year, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS) uses the theme "Equalize" to call on the world to address the inequalities that are holding back progress towards ending AIDS. The body points out that the COVID-19 pandemic worsened the inequalities that also perpetuate the AIDS epidemic.
UNAIDS is encouraging everyone to make effective services for HIV treatment, testing and prevention more widely available, as one step to address these inequalities.
Know your status, get treatment
"DHMS data shows a 50% decrease during the COVID-19 pandemic in completion rates of the Health Check, which includes HIV Counselling and Testing (HCT)," says Dr Noluthando Nematswerani, Head of the Discovery Health Centre for Clinical Excellence. "This concerning finding mirrors the global trend of fewer people going for their health screenings during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Our data also shows a 2.9% drop in the number of HIV-infected people registered on the Discovery HIV Care Programme in 2021 compared to 2019 - which is probably a result of decreased HIV screening.
"Decreased screening rates are a problem because if you don't know that you have HIV, you cannot get treatment for it. That's why we should all be screened for HIV during our annual health and wellness checks, and more regularly if you are at a higher risk of contracting HIV."
Drop in HIV treatment adherence during the COVID-19 pandemic
More than 8,2 million people in South Africa are confirmed to be HIV-infected - around 13,7% of the population. In 2021, Statistics South Africa reported an annual decline of 4% in the number of people who remained on their antiretroviral (ARV) drugs - highlighting the interruption that the COVID-19 pandemic had on HIV prevention and treatment programmes.
"According to our DHMS data, there was a 17% increase in non-compliance to treatment by our HIV-infected members in 2021 compared to 2019," says Dr Nematswerani. "During the pandemic we saw fewer of our HIV-infected members filling their repeat scripts, visiting their GPs for follow ups, and going for their scheduled blood tests.
"Interrupting HIV treatment can harm the health and wellbeing of people living with HIV. However, we have seen an improvement after COVID-19 and we hope that this continues," she adds.
Free HIV screening for DHMS members
"DHMS members enjoy screening and prevention benefits to check for various chronic conditions, including HIV," says Dr Nematswerani.
- DHMS pays for your Health Check from your Screening and Prevention Benefit. This means that it won't affect your day-to-day benefits. Read the benefit guide here.
- If you are a Vitality member, you can also get points for doing your Health Check. Find out more. Vitality members will earn 7,500 Vitality points for their first HIV test and 1,000 points for each yearly test after that.
- From January 2023, DHMS members aged two years and over can activate the WELLTH fund by completing an in-person Health Check. This unlocks once-off access to up to R10,000 per family for an expanded range of screening and prevention healthcare services, according to your individual health needs. This benefit is separate from and in addition to the Screening and Prevention Benefit.
Discovery HIV Care Programme provides support
"The Discovery HIV Care Programme offers HIV-infected people clinically sound HIV treatment and monitoring. Cases are dealt with individually and with complete confidentiality. The programme gives our medical scheme members and their Premier Plus GP access to various tools to monitor and manage the member's condition," says Dr Nematswerani.
When a member registers for the HIV Care Programme, they are covered for:
- Four GP consultations and one specialist consultation each year.
- HIV-specific blood tests (including CD4 count and viral-load tests) - up to four tests a year.
- Antiretroviral medicine on Discovery Health's medicine list.
- Supportive medications that prevent and treat HIV-related infections.
- Treatment and support to prevent a mother from passing HIV to their child (in the womb and after birth).
- Support from an inhouse registered counsellor.
"DHMS members enrolled on the HIV Care Programme have access to treatment from their risk benefits. Our data shows an increase in the proportion of enrolled HIV-infected members with a suppressed viral load and a decrease in their hospital admissions the longer they have been on the programme. This clearly demonstrates the importance of getting the right treatment and support, and adhering to it, after an HIV diagnosis," says Dr Nematswerani.
Find out more about the Discovery HIV Care Programme.
Information and counselling services
There are several resources and counselling services available for people infected or affected by HIV and AIDS:
- National AIDS Helpline is a 24/7 tollfree line for information and counselling related to HIV and AIDS - 0800 012 322
- LifeLine National Counselling Line offers general counselling - 0861 322 322
- LoveLife offers HIV and AIDS services to youths affected by the virus. To use the Plz Cal Me call-back service, dial *140*0833231023# from a Vodacom phone; *121*0833231023# from MTN; and *111*0833231023# from CellC.
The Discovery Health Medical Scheme is an independent non-profit entity governed by the Medical Schemes Act, and regulated by the Council for Medical Schemes. It is administered by a separate company, Discovery Health (Pty) Ltd, an authorised financial services provider. Vitality is not part of Discovery Health Medical Scheme. Vitality is a separate wellness product, sold and administered by Discovery Vitality (Pty) Ltd, registration number 1999/007736/07. Limits, terms and conditions apply.
Wade Schaerer (30) dived head-first into HIV advocacy after he was diagnosed positive in 2017. He fights for the rights of other HIV-positive people and encourages them to stay on antiretroviral (ARV) treatment so that they can live long, healthy lives.
General practitioner Dr Unben Pillay says the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a dramatic drop in the number of people being screened for HIV and accessing HIV treatment, and we must reverse this trend. He also strongly encourages people who live with HIV to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
The double jeopardy of HIV/AIDS and COVID-19 is putting many lives at risk in South Africa and across the globe. Ahead of World AIDS Day 2021, calls are being made to address societal inequalities and increase the uptake of the COVID-19 vaccination.