HIV and AIDS in South Africa

South Africa has the largest number of people living with HIV of any country in the world. South Africa comprises of approximately one-fifth of the 37 million people in the world living with HIV, with an estimated 7.2 million people living with HIV in 2017. This translates to a general population in which an estimated 18.8 percent of South Africans are HIV positive.

And yet, the country is making progress in reducing HIV and AIDS. In recent years, efforts to combat HIV and AIDS in South Africa have been ramped up. According to a study by the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), the statutory research agency of South Africa, there were 231,000 new HIV infections in 2017, representing a 44 percent decrease since the last major study in 2012.

Largest Antiretroviral Drug Campaign in the World

South Africa has the largest antiretroviral drug campaign in the world, which its own domestic resources largely fund. In 2015, South Africa was investing more than 1.34 billion (US dollars) towards its efforts to combat HIV and AIDS. And yet, it was not always like this; the South African government regarding and treating HIV and AIDS as a major and important public health issue and one to which it allocates resources to is a fairly recent phenomenon.

The government spearheaded this change, at least in part, by the exit of former South African President, Thabo Mbeki, who headed the government between June 14, 1999, and September 24, 2008. He had a track record of aversion to the combating of HIV as a public health issue and largely turned a blind eye to the issue. ‘“Many people do not remember that in 2000 there were only 90 people in South Africa on treatment,” said Michel Sidibé, executive director of UNAIDS.” When Mbeki left office in 2008, a tide turned and HIV and AIDS became to be regarded in the milieu and in public policy as a major and important public health issue, and now approximately four million people are receiving antiretroviral drug treatment in South Africa.

The 90 90 90 Plan

The 90 90 90 Plan summarizes some of the efforts to combat HIV and AIDS in South Africa. This plan aimed to test 90 percent of people so they would know their HIV status, followed by 90 percent of those diagnosed receiving sustained antiretroviral therapy and 90 percent of those receiving antiretroviral therapy to have viral suppression.

South Africa reached the first of the 90-90-90 targets, with 90 percent of people aware of their status, jumping up from only 66.2 percent in 2014. Of the affected, presently 61 percent of adults (people between ages 15-49) and 58 percent of children are on antiretroviral treatment, and so these current numbers are not at target though they are continuing to trend upwards. Life expectancy has seen a significant increase over the past several years, largely due to the efforts launched with antiretroviral therapy. There has been an improvement in life expectancy from 61.2 years in 2010 to 67.7 years in 2015.  With an increase of nearly 10 percent in just five years, one cannot overstate South Africa’s success in reducing HIV and AIDS within the country.

– Lacy Rab
Photo: Flickr

Over the past two decades, sweeping statements about our ability to end poverty have been common. Lyndon Johnson declared it in 1964. Thabo Mbeki in 2002. Tony Blair in 2005. More recently, Obama and U2 frontman Bono have attempted to inspire action by reiterating our capacity to make an impact and in April press conference, Jim Yong Kim wrote “2030” on a piece of paper, held it up and stated emphatically that this was the deadline to end global poverty.

More common than our leaders’ public displays of confidence, however, is our general inaction towards capitalizing on our ability to use it. This is not necessarily a reflection of the stinginess of those in power; the international response after disasters and during successful charity drives is a testament to the existing desire to aid those in need. Rather, we are grappling with a problem of mismanagement and misconception.

Ending poverty is achievable in the way winning an Olympic medal is achievable. It will take energy, time, luck, effort, money and above all, indomitable will to ensure its success. It has to be properly managed and directed. Currently, what we have is akin to having a potential star athlete without a trainer or equipment.

The Washington Post estimates that if countries were to donate 50 cents of every $100 earned in income, it would drastically decrease poverty – if properly funneled. The cost to end poverty is not, in and of itself, exorbitantly high, especially in comparison to budgets for other programs. Yet the money already used is too often misused – charity, while noble, is often a misguided venture which temporarily alleviates rather than solves problems and too little is directed towards programs that could help because of fear of corruption or siphoning by dishonest governments.

The Millennium Project has released a report Investing in Development which outlines the numerous ways a small amount can have a huge impact. Malaria nets in sub-Saharan Africa, for example, are magic bullets: eliminating disease, potentially lowering birth rates and allowing greater productivity. The provision of obstetric care could save hundreds of lives, while using local healthy foods to provide nutritious school lunches could increase revenues for farmers and improve child health and performance in schools.

Too often, people think of poverty as an unconquerable single problem. In reality, poverty is the result of a confluence of factors, all of which have structural solutions. Although it is complicated and requires long-term planning, a fatalistic view of poverty is solely an excuse for not trying. Estimates put the total cost of the US contribution around 60 billion – a fraction of what the nation spends annually. With so much potential benefit in terms of emerging markets and sound international security, the cost to end poverty seems almost a bargain price.

– Farahnaz Mohammed

Source: The Economist, Washington Post
Photot: Middlesbourgh Diocese