HIV/AIDS in South Africa
Since the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) first evolved into the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) in the early 1980s, the virus has rapidly spread to every corner of the globe. It has infected over 65 million people worldwide. With no cure in sight, over 25 million victims have perished at the hands of the virus to date. HIV/AIDS predominantly plagues regions in Africa, Asia and the Pacific. Though cases have dropped since the epidemic heights of the 1990s, this disease continues to afflict 38 million people today and remains a leading cause of death. Here is a summary of HIV/AIDS in South Africa.

What is HIV/AIDS?

The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infiltrates and takes over the cells that protect against infections. As the body’s ability to fight viruses disappears, HIV makes the individual extremely vulnerable to additional infections or diseases. Spread through the transmission of bodily fluids, transmission most commonly occurs during the communal use of drug injection syringes and unprotected sexual activity. When left untreated, HIV can devolve into a lifetime condition called acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). No cure exists for HIV or AIDS, but there are preventative measures that an individual can take, as well as treatment, drugs and therapy.

HIV/AIDS in South Africa

In 1982, South Africa was battling the apartheid that had dominated its governance for decades. This landmark transformation created tumultuous political strife that distracted national attention away from the HIV virus that was silently taking root in the gay and impoverished black communities. With drastic changes occurring in the South African government, insufficient measures failed to halt the initial handful of HIV infections from growing by 60% by 1995.

By the time that South African President Nelson Mandela first spoke about the virus, the epidemic had escalated into a public health crisis. South America became the most infected country in the world. Virus deniers and negligent governing officials let the situation further devolve throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. It was not until 2008 and a change in administrations that South Africa treated HIV/AIDS as a public health threat. The new government implemented a plan to distribute medicines and drugs, the largest step South Africa had taken since the virus outbreak 30 years prior.

Currently, efforts to fight HIV/AIDS face infrastructural and monetary difficulties. Public health resources have become sparse as the South African currency lost value. Consequently, HIV/AIDS therapy and antiretroviral treatment declined even while virus rates continue to rise.

In 2019, HIV/AIDS infected an estimated 7.7 million South Africans. That totals 20.4% of the population, with new cases occurring daily. Additionally, more than 72,000 HIV/AIDS-related deaths have occurred in South Africa. Over 70% of South African adults and 41% of minors undergo antiretroviral treatment.

Preventing the Spread

The HIV/AIDS epidemic that continues to plague South Africa may find its match in antiretroviral treatment (ART). This preventative measure is highly popular since the South African government progressed the ART program since the early 2000s. UNAID reported that 70% of South Africans living with HIV/AIDS received ART treatment in 2019, up by 50% since 2010. If an individual tests positive for HIV, they can receive ART to forestall or fully prevent the further devolution of HIV symptoms and the onset of AIDS. South Africans have invested themselves in taking advantage of the free testing. A guaranteed treatment for those testing positive increases the number of South Africans willing to obtain testing.

ART therapy particularly helps mothers with HIV by curbing mother-to-child transmission. This preventative measure has resulted in a strengthening of both mother and child health, and a decrease in birthing mortality and childhood HIV/AIDS infection.

While HIV/AIDS in South Africa remains a massive issue, one can find hope in new and evolving preventative measures. ART treatment offers an avenue to health for many infected individuals. It prevents further spread, curbs symptoms and can make healthy populations resistant to the virus. With South Africa expanding its diagnostic and treatment capabilities, people living with HIV/AIDS may live longer and healthier lives.

– Caroline Largoza
Photo: Flickr