South Africa's Huge HIV Testing Campaign

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This is the VOA Special English Health Report.

South Africa plans to test fifteen million people for H.I.V. by June of next year. That is almost one-third of its population.

South Africa has the most people living with H.I.V. of any nation. The number of infected men, women and children is estimated at more than five and a half million -- or eleven percent of the population.

President Jacob Zuma launched the testing campaign on Sunday in Johannesburg. He announced the results of his latest blood test for H.I.V.

JACOB ZUMA: "My April results, like the three previous ones, registered a negative outcome."

He said he was sharing the results to support openness and understanding.

JACOB ZUMA: “We have to work harder together to fight the perceptions and the stigma. We have to make all South Africans that people living with H.I.V. have not committed any crime."

The country's former president, Thabo Mbeki, was known for the unaggressive way his government dealt with AIDS. He questioned whether H.I.V. even caused the disease.

The new testing and counseling campaign will start at a single location in each of South Africa's nine provinces this month. The program will be expanded every two months until fifty-two health centers are offering the service.

The government says it will also expand treatment and support services.

Francois Venter is a senior director in the Reproductive Health and HIV Research Unit at the University of Witwatersrand. He says the testing campaign may put additional stress on the health system, but that will show where the weaknesses are. He says knowing which areas of the system are going to cause future problems will make the effort worthwhile, even if the goal of fifteen million is not reached.

The South Africa National AIDS Council is heading the campaign. The council includes government representatives, medical experts and health activists. The theme of the campaign is "I am responsible. We are responsible. South Africa is taking responsibility."

Along with H.I.V., South Africa also has high rates of diabetes, high blood pressure and tuberculosis. Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi says the campaign will be used to improve all health care. People who get tested for H.I.V. will also get other services including screening for blood pressure, blood sugar and TB.

This June the eyes of the football world will be on South Africa when it becomes the first African country to host the World Cup.

And that's the VOA Special English Health Report, written by Caty Weaver. For more health news, go to voaspecialenglish.com. You can also get our reports on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and iTunes at VOA Learning English. I’m Steve Ember.

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