South Africa has the largest HIV epidemic in the world.
Surprisingly enough, recent research by the Human Services Research Council (HSRC) recorded the rate of new HIV infections in the country has dropped by 44 percent since the last major study that was completed in 2012. This is a significant and unexpected improvement over what leading experts anticipated.
Dr Sandile Buthelezi, the CEO of the South African National AIDS Council, admitted to being surprised by the survey’s findings as she told The Telegraph:
“What this report tells us is that we are going in the right direction but we need to double our efforts. We are confident that we are doing something right but I think we can do better and we need to move faster.”
The survey found that in 2017 there were 1.8 million new infections worldwide and 231,100 of them were in South Africa. This is still far too many new infections even though it’s wonderful the number of new infections has decreased each year.
Dr Buthelezi said that within the five-year reporting period the rate of decline in new infections had begun to plateau which means that efforts to bring the disease under control have been “slipping off track”.
UNAIDS is the body set up by the United Nations to tackle the epidemic. They set a target for 2020 called 90, 90, 90. This is how it goes:
“By 2020, UNAID hopes that 90 percent of all people living with HIV will know their HIV status, 90 percent of all people diagnosed with HIV will receive sustained antiretroviral therapy, and 90 percent of the people receiving the drug therapy will have viral suppression.”
At this rate, South Africa along with the rest of the world looks unlikely to meet the UNAIDS global target – to record fewer than 500,000 new HIV infections a year by 2020.
South Africa had pledged to cut numbers to 88,000 so 231,000 Dr Buthelezi conceded is “very far from our target”. He said:
“What this report tells us is that we are going in the right direction but we need to double our efforts. From what was released today we are confident that we are doing something right but I think we can do better and we need to move faster”.
Globally, new HIV infections have declined by only 18 percent in almost a decade – down from 2.2 million in 2010 to 1.8 million In 2017.
“New HIV infections are not falling fast enough.” – Sidibe
It’s a step in the right direction but the rate of decline is going way too slow. Michael Sidibé, executive director of UNAIDS says:
“For every challenge there is a solution. It is the responsibility of political leaders, national governments and the international community to make sufficient financial investments and establish the legal and policy environments needed to bring the work of innovators to the global scale.”
The reports also found that new HIV infections were actually on the rise in 50 countries, doubling in eastern Europe and Central Asia.
There are 37 million people around the world living with HIV. That’s about 1 in every 200 people. Therefore, in a crowd (like a concert for example) of 30,000 people, 150 have HIV.
There are new treatments out there helping people who are infected. AIDS-related deaths have also gone down worldwide due to the success of antiretroviral therapy. Michael Sidibe, executive director of UNAIDS, says:
“The success in saving lives has not been matched with equal success in reducing new HIV infections.”
Jumping back to South Africa statistics, rape and sexual violence is widespread in South Africa and account for as much as a quarter of new HIV infections among young women, campaigners say. But an even more significant factor, they claim, is the widespread practice of younger women engaging in sexual relations with older men because not only are older men more likely to be HIV positive than their younger peers, they are also less likely to use condoms.
The reason the women do this is that the country has an extremely high youth unemployment rate, which stands at more than 50 percent. According to campaigners:
“With little hope of finding a job, or forming a financially-viable relationship with their age-mates, young women often seek economic stability by pairing up with older, richer men, known colloquially as ‘Blessers’. Therefore it is only when south Africa can address societal issues that keep the young poor and marginalized that real progress in containing HIV can be made.”
Nevertheless, preventative measures do exist. Dr Buthelezi said:
“Structural interventions that address issues like poverty, drug abuse, keeping girls in schools — these have as much impact as medical interventions and will allow us to move much faster.”
As long as nations keep moving forward and the numbers continue to decline the epidemic is heading in the right direction.
The survey showing how South Africa was able to drop the number of new infections by 44% means there is hope. Things just need to move quicker now and more aggressively toward the UNAIDS 90,90,90 target.
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