KZN town that exceeded UN's HIV treatment target ‘grateful’ for MSF’s help

This success was achieved through the intervention of foreign medical aid, specifically the humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders (MSF).

FILE: An HIV patient with medication. Picture: AFP

JOHANNESBURG - "If they leave, nobody else will be encouraging the community to come forward and seek help if they are HIV positive."

This is the view of Chief Thembinkosi Zulu from Eshowe in KwaZulu-Natal on Doctors Without Borders’ (MSF) input in his community. He said the aid the organisation has provided to them has had a massive positive impact on the community. So much so, that they don’t know how their ability to reduce one of South Africa’s highest antiretroviral treatment rates would be sustained once the international NGO leaves the area.

“We have a good relationship with Doctors Without Borders. The HIV infection rate has decreased since they’ve arrived, and people can talk freely about the virus,” the chief explained to Eyewitness News.

WATCH: HIV in KZN: the story of death to life

Out of all the nine provinces, KZN has the highest number of people living with HIV, accounting for around 24% of the country's infection rates. In 2013, 70% of people living in the town of Eshowe were on antiretroviral treatment. Five years later, that number has jumped to 94%.

The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and Aids set a treatment target for South Africa to fight the pandemic. UNAids' 90-90-90 strategy stipulated that by next year, 90% of people infected which HIV would know their status, 90% of HIV positive patients would receive treatment, while 90% of those on antiretrovirals would have viral suppression.

In Eshowe, north of KwaZulu-Natal, these targets have been exceeded well before the deadline at 90-94-95.

But this success was achieved through the intervention of foreign medical aid, specifically the humanitarian group MSF. The organisation has been working in the area since 2011 when it launched its Bending the Curves project.

MSF’s Dr Lizbette Ooler explained their involvement: “We have been really working with the community. We have been discussing with the people, trying to find out, why they’re getting challenges to getting access to healthcare and how can we improve it.”

The work of MSF has also been boosted by the cooperation of traditional leaders.

While Eshowe has done exceptionally well in the fight against HIV, KwaZulu-Natal remained the province with the highest prevalence on the continent.