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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

Healthcare in South Africa
With a population of 57.78 million people and with approximately 49.2% of the adult population living below the poverty line, AIDS and healthcare in South Africa are two of the country’s main issues. In particular, the unequal distribution of healthcare resources has worsened the country’s fight against HIV and AIDS. During recent years, South Africa has begun to take steps toward change. Here are five facts about the AIDS and healthcare crisis in South Africa.

5 Facts About AIDS and Healthcare in South Africa

  1. Systems of Healthcare in South Africa: South Africa’s healthcare system is severely divided between the public and private sectors. The public sector (the healthcare provided by government funding) covers about 84% of the population. In South Africa, 70% of doctors work in the private sector, as people who can afford private healthcare tend to pay better, and private doctors have access to better resources. Furthermore, per capita expenditure in the private sector, or the cost per person, was about $1,400 in 2014, while per capita expenditure in the public sector was about $140. For comparison, the United States’ per capita healthcare expenditure is about $11,200.
  2. Rural vs. Urban Communities: As in many countries, there is significant inequality in access to healthcare between rural and urban communities. In South Africa, people living in rural areas tend to rely on public healthcare. Unfortunately, there is an inadequate number of trained healthcare professionals in the public sector. A study conducted in 2002 revealed that urban areas of South Africa were more likely to have higher percentages of HIV infections. However, as a result of the inequality of healthcare, people in rural South Africa were two times less likely to receive testing for HIV or AIDs.
  3. AIDS Epidemic: In South Africa, 7.7 million people live with AIDS, the highest case rate in the world. About 20% of the world’s HIV cases are in South Africa, and within the country, about 60% of women have HIV. Even in areas in which testing is available, many choose not to partake, as they are afraid of receiving a positive result. A lack of resources, including education for young people and proper training for healthcare workers, has created issues surrounding awareness of the disease, proper diagnosis and access to PrEP. This drug reduces the possibility of infection by 99%.
  4. ART Program AID: In 2003, South Africa rolled out the largest Antiretroviral Treatment plan (ART) in the world. Offered through the public sector, ART serves as the primary HIV intervention for both children and adults. An important aspect of its implementation was affordability, as only 13.7% of South Africans have medical insurance. With the help of CDC South Africa, government facilities and mission hospitals, more people were able to access and benefit from the program.
  5. The Good News: ART has proved to be successful, as adult HIV deaths peaked in 2006, with 231,000 deaths, and then decreased dramatically. In 2014 there were 95,000 deaths, which was a reduction of 74.7%. In total, from the very beginning of the program in 2003 to 2014, the ART program reduced HIV adult deaths by an estimated 1.72 million, a clear positive trend. Most recently, in 2018, 71,000 people died from AIDs-related illness, which was a 50% decrease from 2010. Furthermore, 62% of people with HIV had access to treatment. 87% of pregnant women with AIDs also received antiretroviral medication, preventing 53,000 HIV infections in newborn babies. These statistics are all improvements from previous years.

While there is still work to be done to improve AIDS and healthcare in South Africa, much progress has been made. Increased funding and support for new programs and access to antiretroviral medication have had a significant impact. Moving forward, it is essential that these programs expand their efforts to further reduce deaths caused by HIV and AIDS.

Alyssa Hogan
Photo: Flickr