SABC got it wrong – 88% of South Africa’s police members not HIV+

Comments 2

Could "about 88%" of South Africa's police force be HIV+, as the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) recently reported? Africa Check inspected the evidence.

This report has been updated to include a response from the editor of SABC Digital News, Izak Minnaar. We have published it below the report.

Under the headline “Police reveals shocking HIV infection stats” the South African Broadcasting Corporation recently said that “[a]bout 88% of active staff” in the country’s police service are HIV+.

The SABC was reporting on a speech by deputy police minister Maggie Sotyu to parliament’s police portfolio committee last week.

“The 88% is made up of active personnel, clerks, public services act members and sweepers,” the SABC added.

Many readers contacted Africa Check in disbelief. “This number can surely not be right,” tweeted Ricardo Mackenzie, a member of Western Cape provincial parliament, to which the province’s premier Helen Zille replied: “A job for @AfricaCheck.”

‘Information is confidential’

The South African Police Service (SAPS) had 193,692 members at last count – 150,950 police officials and 42,742 support staff (called public service act members).

If 88% of the police service were HIV+, that would mean 170,449 members carry the virus. And if true, the HIV rate for this group would be 8 times the national prevalence rate of 11.2%.

Africa Check first contacted the deputy minister’s office who referred us to the Police Medical Scheme (Polmed). Spokesman Marlene Eloff said she couldn’t provide information on the total number of Polmed members or confirm how many were on the HIV programme, saying: “This information is confidential”.

27,246 people on HIV programme

In the meantime, the deputy minister’s spokesman, Nomsa Hani, sent us the slides on which her speech was based.

This showed that 27,246 people, comprising of police members and their dependents, were enrolled in Polmed’s HIV programme in the 2014/15 financial year. More than two-thirds (18,996) of them were main members of the scheme and therefore presumably police officials or support staff.

Of the 27,246 police members and their dependents enrolled in the programme, 88% were receiving antiretroviral treatment (ART), with 10% “too early to treat” and 2% defaulters.

Conclusion: 88% of SA’s police are not HIV+

The SABC mistakenly reported that “about 88%” of South Africa’s police officials are HIV+. This number referred to the share of people enrolled in the police medical scheme’s HIV programme who were receiving antiretroviral treatment in 2014/15.

If we only count the main members, this could mean that at least 9.8% of the entire police service were HIV+. However, as some police members may be medical scheme beneficiaries or not even know that they carry the virus, this is simply a starting point. A nationally representative survey is needed.

 

Additional reading

Yes, South Africa has the world’s largest antiretroviral therapy programme

Are 41% of South African college students HIV positive?

The SABC responded to this report:

It is not the SABC who got the facts wrong in the report on the SAPS HIV infection rate: the initial report reflected the numbers given by deputy police minister Maggie Sotyu at a seminar hosted by parliament’s police portfolio committee. However, after queries from the SABC’s parliamentary reporter Mercedes Besent, the deputy minister realised that she had made a mistake and provided the correct information, as reflected in the SABC story published later the same day. While we fixed the issue elsewhere on the site, in this particular story we initially slipped up by not pointing to the correct story. We have now done so.

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Comment on this report

Comments 2
  1. By Mika Thane

    “Spokesman Marlene Eloff said she couldn’t provide information on the total number of Polmed members or confirm how many were on the HIV programme, saying: “This information is confidential”. ”

    According to this – publicly available – document (page 16), Polmed had 172,817 members and 494,602 beneficiaries as at 31 December 2014.

    http://www.polmed.co.za/wp-content/uploads/bsk-pdf-manager/(20150506102552_AM)_Polmed_Admin_RFB(final)_3.pdf

    Presumably the “members” included both police officers and support staff employed by the SAPS and perhaps retired former employees, while the remaining 321,785 were dependents (spouses, children) of employees and former employees.

    So I’d say that 18,996 “main members” in the HIV program includes not just current serving officers, but also support staff and retired former employees as well, while the remaining 8,250 in that program are dependents of SAPS employees.

    These figures will of course underestimate the true prevalence of HIV among police employees and their dependents, since it doesn’t include people with HIV who have not yet joined the HIV program – for example because they are not yet diagnosed or because they are not yet eligible for antiretroviral treatment.

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  2. By Mika Thane

    “However, after queries from the SABC’s parliamentary reporter Mercedes Besent, the deputy minister realised that she had made a mistake and provided the correct information, as reflected in the SABC story published later the same day.”

    The current version of the story on the SABC’s website carries the correction: “* The police later issued a statement correcting these statistics: [link] HIV infection stats regarding police incorrect”

    However, this correction was not added to the original story “later the same day” (17th February) as they claim. In fact, the correction does not appear in Google’s cache of the original story as it appeared on Feb 25, 2016 13:02:04 GMT – it was obviously added later, after the Africa Check story came out.

    SABC’s attempt to blame the minister for the reporter’s misunderstanding and their failure to fact-check before publishing an obviously absurd story is just plain shoddy. Being less than truthful about precisely when they corrected the story does nothing to improve their credibility.

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