If you could win R50 000 by having an HIV test, would you have one?
Premier Helen Zille thinks so.
But some experts say Zille’s lucky draw “Get Tested To Win” competition smacks of “cheap publicity”, and that the money could have been put to better use.
Zille teamed up this week with Harvard University professors in a “think-tank”. Together they came up with a competition that offers locals R100 000 in cash prizes if they are tested for HIV during the 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women.
Zille, who was also recently criticised for suggesting that HIV positive men who had multiple sexual partners and refuse to use condoms be charged with attempted murder, on Friday launched the competition as the provincial government’s official contribution to mark the nationwide 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women that runs until December 10.
Speaking at the unveiling of the plan, she said the scheme was conceived earlier this week with Harvard University professors and intended to encourage locals to test for HIV.
“We had a workshop on Monday, brainstormed it in the week and came up with this. It points to the kind of turnaround in government,” she said.
The Western Cape government and the provincial health department are running the competition from Monday until December 10.
To enter, locals must have an HIV test at specific provincial health sites. These sites are listed on the provincial government website and a R200 000 marketing campaign will also list testing venues.
A R50 000 first prize and five R10 000 runner-up prizes will be awarded on December 10. Names will be placed in a lucky draw, but winners’ names will only be made public if they give the go-ahead.
Zille said the competition was a “pilot project” and that similar initiatives could follow.
“Persuasion has not particularly worked. We have done everything. We would rather use incentives to ensure that all adults regularly test their status. We are not going to push and coerce. We are going to incentivise people to take responsibility,” Zille said at the launch on Friday.
The Western Cape government spent around R661 million on its HIV/Aids programmes in the 2010/2011 financial year.
Zille said 1 042 942 people had been voluntarily tested for HIV in the province in the past year, while 103 000 were on antiretroviral treatment by the end of October.
HIV testing was vital because Aids was part of the “suffering and hardship of women”, she said.
“Often women and young girls become infected as a result of being coerced into having unprotected sex with men who are ignorant of their HIV-positive status and who believe it is their right to have inter-generational sex with multiple concurrent partners,” said Zille.
“This is violence against women and young girls. Their choice is taken away from them and they are exposed to risk and harm.”
HIV/Aids experts and child rights groups are not convinced by Zille’s new intervention.
“Questionable,” was the description given to the competition by Mark Heywood, director of Section 27 which promotes the right of access to healthcare services.
“It causes concern that this could cause people to test for HIV without taking seriously the counselling. It could be counter-productive,” said Heywood. “It would be better to spend R100 000 on community-based campaign that encourages behaviour change.
“This competition will not overcome the real reason for people not testing for HIV. It’s creating an artificial incentive. There should be an ongoing campaign around HIV testing for 365 days and not just 16 days.”
Patric Solomons, director of child rights group Molo Songololo, said that he was “taken aback by the competition”.
“This is strange. It smacks of cheap publicity. We need to spend this money to roll out testing services to people in areas where there is a lack of services.”