The Sunday Times’ Each One Reach Five campaign is a bold and ambitious approach to the fight against HIV/AIDS. The newspaper has asked that every person reading the stories that appeared on the issue of 15 April 2007 do an HIV test and get five people to do the same. The campaign aims to get 25-million South Africans to test before the end of the year, writes Akhona Cira in the JournAIDS blog.
“Today, the Sunday Times is asking each person who reads the stories on this page to take an HIV test and to get five others to do the same. Ask each of those five to get another five to do the same, and so on,” the paper reported.

I did not read the newspaper and so a friend told me about the campaign and asked me to join her in taking an HIV test. She had already reached one person in me. Although I will take the test, I still told her that I didn’t think this campaign would work because too many people prefer the bliss of being ignorant of their status.

To a certain extent I still feel this way although I am going to take up the challenge and I’m going to do my best to reach my five people. But, ever the pragmatist, I insist on looking at the pitfalls of this campaign.

There is no doubt that if the campaign continues to enjoy the popularity with which it has been launched it will certainly go a long way to helping many know their HIV status. Wife of former President Nelson Mandela, Graça Machel has already been tested with six people she has persuaded to join her in this brave step.

A list published by the Sunday Times boasts celebrities and businesspeople who have already pledged themselves to the campaign and indicates a good response to its launch. The list features the likes of Survivor SA winner Vanessa Marawa, business magnates Patrice Motsepe, Wendy Luhabe and Raymond Ackerman, and former boxing champion Baby Jake Matlana. Not to be cynical or contrary but I have seen many celebrities pledge themselves to causes and come short in fulfilling their promises as they did in the “Getting naked in the fight against HIV/AIDS” campaign run by Marie Claire and the National Network on Violence Against Women auction. It will be interesting to see whether or not they do this time.

Acting Minister of Health, Jeff Radebe has heartily endorsed the campaign particularly “as there is the need for an in the uptake if voluntary counseling and testing,” the Sunday Times reported, going on to note:

    “For any such campaign to be effective, attention should be paid to:
    Effective utilisation of peer influence;
    Ensuring that all testing is linked with prevention, treatment, care and support services;
    Availability of services as the demand for their use increases; and
    Consideration of human rights, particularly confidentiality and the right to information.”

Deputy Health Minister Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge also lauded the newspaper’s initiative, saying it has helped create a national spirit of unity and determination to work together to overcome HIV/AIDS.

    “To gain a true picture of HIV prevalence, we must test at least 25-million people. We will then know the size of the problem and can support those who test negative to remain negative and support and care for those who are HIV-positive. I encourage you to support this Sunday Times initiative,” she said in a column in thepaper.

The paper will juxtapose this campaign with its Everyone Knows Someone campaign and a weekly column with the campaign volunteers’ accounts will be run. I look forward to writing my own story for the Sunday Times. I hope it will not be detailed with a struggle to convince my peers that ignorance is not bliss.