South Africa’s HIV/Aids Burden
The first meeting in the sixth administration of the South African National Aids Council (SANAC) inter-ministerial committee has kicked off in Cape Town. As the committee chair, Deputy President David Mabuza took time to address those gathered. In his speech, Mr. Mabuza stated that adolescent girls and young women continued to be disproportionately affected by HIV/Aids. He also said that South Africa bore the highest burden of HIV globally, with almost eight million people infected. Of these, 4.4 million were on anti-retroviral treatment.
The Deputy President was basing his comments on the most recent UNAID Global Aids report. The report, on the HIV/Aids situation in South Africa in 2018 states that, “of the 7,500,000 adults living with HIV, 4,700,000 (62.67%) were women. New HIV infections among young women aged 15–24 years were more than double those among young men.”
Though the number of AIDS-related deaths has gone down by 50% since 2010, South Africa is still lagging behind other countries and still reeling from the heavy burden this high HIV/Aids prevalence rate and number of people infected with the virus present. A frightening comment on the UNAIDS report states that only 45.8% the young population aged 15-24 years, correctly identified ways of preventing the sexual transmission of HIV.
Given that this is the age at which partying, drugs, drinking and sexual activity are most indulged in, it is quite scaring to imagine that more than 50% of the young adults could be exposing themselves to new infections regularly or infecting their fellow partners in the name of enjoyment while ignorant of the deadly game they are playing.
There was a time in the 90s and early 2000s when the fight against HIV/Aids was being fought vigorously. The focus was on point, everywhere one went, the message was right in your face. Billboards were set up everywhere. Posters and adverts in the media trumpeted the message. Visits to schools and churches to educate people were made by those in the know. Those in leadership, medical professionals, teachers and community leaders, everyone made it their responsibility to share the message and make sure South Africans were aware of the threat of HIV/Aids, had themselves tested to know their status, and knew how to live with or avoid being infected with the HIV virus.
One cannot but wonder why the HIV/Aids situation in South Africa continues to be so bad. HIV/Aids, its causes and results of an infection should be sang like an anthem to the young and old alike. The human being is funny and seems to thrive on the panic mode. When the epidemic was new and unknown, there were no drugs to control it and an infection was a sure death sentence, people lived in fear and took precautions not to get infected. Now, there are anti-retroviral drugs that enable an infected person to live a relatively long and healthy life. The fear of the unknown, especially for the youth, has worn off and familiarity seems to have set in. This is a very dangerous state for anyone to be in because it leads to carelessness and exposure to the virus.
The fact that the HIV virus can now be controlled with drugs does not take its potency and danger away. In fact it could be said to be more dangerous now than ever because while the state of an infected person was obvious in the past, it is difficult to know an infected person if they are on the antiretroviral drugs. They look as healthy as the next person, a deceptive look that leads the unsuspecting to take risks with them and get themselves infected. This would be one way that has led the prevalence rate remaning high.
While meetings like the South African National Aids Council (SANAC) inter-ministerial committee continue to be held to chart a way forward in the fight against HIV/Aids and TB, educating the masses must be done without stopping or reducing the speed. Aggressive, no compromise fight to make sure new infections are reduced to a minimum, must not be taken. People must be educated and sensitized at all times of the prevailing circumstances that lead to infections and how to avoid them. Those infected must be taught how to live positively and how to take responsibility of their actions to avoid spreading the virus.
If other countries are winning this war, South Africa can do it too. Individually and collectively, let us take on this fight against HIV/Aids until we overcome.