News agency, Cape Town, South Africa
Sunday September 15th 2019

Clinic forces HIV patients to disclose their status to family – woman


Hiding her face in fear of being identified and facing further victimisation, a young Cape Town woman was forced to disclose her HIV status to receive medication. Photo. Peter Luhanga/WCN

A 20-year-old woman was allegedly refused HIV/Aids medication at a Gugulethu clinic – unless she disclosed her HIV status to at least one family member.

She said that when she was diagnosed with the virus in November last year and booked in for counselling, nurses forced her to come with a family member.

Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) researcher Marcus Low slammed the alleged conduct of nurses at the clinic.

Low said the young woman’s claim was serious “and if it is true it is inappropriate and not allowed”.

Health department spokesman Joe Maila also slammed the alleged conduct of nurses at the clinic, saying nobody should be forced to disclose their HIV/Aids status.

Maila said it was not his department’s policy to force HIV/Aids patients to disclose their status to a third party in order to access medication.

In response to the allegation, Mayoral Committee (Mayco) member for health Lungiswa James denied that HIV/Aids patients were forced to disclose their status.

This is not the case. No patients are forced to disclose their HIV status and they are neither denied nor refused treatment should they decide not to disclose their HIV status,” said James.

She said that patients were encouraged through counselling to disclose their status to someone they trust as it easier for them to manage their condition with appropriate support, but this does not affect their receiving medication.

We encourage patients to use the internal customer complaint process because it allows for speedy resolution of any complaint. Knowing that we provide service to the people, there are several interventions we have in place in order to ensure excellent customer care,” she said

However, the young woman living with HIV/Aids said each time she went to collect her monthly medication other HIV/Aids sufferers had shared their experiences with her at the clinic that they too were forced to disclose their HIV status to family members.

They (nurses) force you to disclose (your HIV/Aids) status to your family members. They (nurses) say bring one member of your family to your first counselling appointment and disclose your status to them… If you don’t bring a member of your family you don’t get ARVs,” she said.

Not ready to disclose her HIV status to her mother, she brought her Mozambican boyfriend to the clinic.

She said that after having brought her boyfriend to the Vuyani clinic and disclosing her status to him, she started taking her ARVs.

But because her boyfriend had lost his passport and had no other documentation to identify himself, Vuyani clinic nurses refused to render any related medical services to him. He had to go to another clinic in Nyanga where he was also diagnosed with HIV/Aids.

The people I meet at the clinic when I go to collect ARVs say they are experiencing the same problem of being forced to disclose their HIV/Aids status,” she said.

Additionally, she accused nurses at the clinic of bring “rude”, as they scolded patients who asked to find their way. “[When] you ask where the HIV/Aids room is they say go and ask at the reception… cant you read what’s written on the door?”

During counselling, she said an HIV/Aids sufferer was advised to have one boyfriend and stop drinking beer and smoking cigarettes “even when you didn’t drink beer and smoke cigarettes”.

She said she was equally concerned that when patients question the nurses about how to apply for the state’s social grant, the nurses respond by saying things like, “I’m sleeping around with too many men, now you start asking for a social grant.”

Finally, she alleges that because HIV/Aids patients need a relatively low CD4 blood cell count to qualify for the grant, “patients are forced to default medication to lower their CD count to get a social grant.”Peter Luhanga



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