Misdiagnosed HIV questioned

Two patients said they had lived for years believing they were HIV positive.

Councillors at the HIV/AIDS testing campaign. Picture: Nastasya Tay/EWN

JOHANNESBURG - HIV experts said the misdiagnosis of HIV was extremely unlikely but possible, as two patients told Eyewitness News that they lived for years believing they were HIV positive after two Gauteng health facilities misdiagnosed them.

Years later the two individuals found they were HIV negative.

"The tests are not absolutely flawless," said Professor Francois Venter from the HIV clinicians' society.

"People need to be reassured though that the tests we use, that if it's done correctly is 99,9 percent good.

"We would usually confirm it with a second test anyway."

Venter said he only came across one such case in the last 10 years, where a doctor used the wrong method of diagnosis.

He said health facilities should be held directly accountable for their mistakes.

Venter added a previous concern about the accuracy of a batch of HIV tests in 2011 led to a recall by the Health Department.

The first case was of a woman who was raped in 2006.

She said she was diagnosed as HIV positive, only to be re-tested five years later with a different result.

The second case is that of Peter, a pensioner who lives in Alexandra.

In 2010 at the Edenvale hospital, Peter was confirmed as being HIV positive, after a single blood test.

He said he planned to sue the facility after he was misdiagnosed.

After watching his friends die from the virus, Peter had considered suicide.

Over the next two years he was told by doctors to take anti-retrovirals, but every time his blood was tested, his CD4 count was too high.

A Johannesburg hospital retested his blood last month only to find that he was HIV negative.

He is furious with Edenvale hospital, "They did not apologise. They will only hide this now because they don't want to get into trouble."

The Gauteng Department of Health said it has not come across a single incident of mistaken HIV diagnosis in the province.

The department's Simon Zwane said the situation would be practically impossible because even if people are regarded as HIV positive, their blood should be tested every six months to monitor their condition.

"Once you're on treatment you have to be tested so that they monitor whether you are responding to the treatment or not.

"They have to monitor and make interventions when it becomes necessary."