A campaign to encourage more people to test for HIV has led to hundreds of commuters and taxi drivers flocking to a mobile clinic, consisting of eight tents, set up on the deck of Cape Town’s main train station. Teams of counsellors and nurses are offering HIV counseling and testing, screening for TB and diabetes as well as blood pressure checks and advice on family planning. They are distributing condoms and asking about possible symptoms of Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) during the three-week stint on the busy station deck.

“The tents are never empty. There are always people getting tested. It’s very exciting. We’re helping by giving people the power to keep themselves healthy, and if HIV positive, to get medical attention,” said Leandie September, Target 5000 Coordinator for the Desmond Tutu TB Centre (DTTC) at Stellenbosch University.

The tents have been set up as part of the Target 5000 Campaign, funded by the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) through the US-based Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The target is to get an extra 5,000 people in Cape Town tested for HIV within three months. The DTTC has taken up the challenge. With the help of the City of Cape Town Health Directorate, they were able to set up a mobile operation, bringing in a caravan, eight tents and teams of counsellors, nurses, data clerks as well as mobilisers who spread the word about the service.

During the day, two people with loudhailers walk up and down the crowded station deck, taxi rank and shops, encouraging people to test, while others hand out pamphlets and direct people to the tents. Petronella Njiva, who runs a small hairdressing salon on the station deck, said it was a very convenient service. “I work seven days a week, so this is good for me. I can go and test for free right here and then get back to work. It only takes fifteen minutes to get my results from the HIV test.” The response has exceeded the expectations of the DTTC so far.

“It’s been fantastic. People are getting tested who wouldn’t typically go to a clinic for an HIV test. Over half of the people who have come to get tested are men. Many young people and people who are not aware of any signs or symptoms of disease are popping in. We’re providing early case detection and linkage to HIV care,” said Sue-Ann Meehan, who heads up the Community HIV Prevention Programme (COMAPP) for the DTTC.

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