The Coming Resurgence Of HIV/Aids Epidemic
The current crop of adolescents and teenagers were born at the tail end of the HIV/Aids epidemic that started in the 1980s through the 1990s. They were born when ARVs were available and most adults then who had been infected with the Aids virus were likely to have been on the regiment. So, our current youth are maturing at a time when HIV/Aids is not regarded with as much dread as it was in the last two decades of the last century. They have grown with and around people who were living with the virus and going about their everyday lives just like those without it.
During the height of the epidemic, the government invested in public education and programmes that were aimed at combating the disease get people protected against infection or re-infection and if infected, teach them how to live positively with the virus. All this resulted in people with HIV going on to live normal lives and even have children. The Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMCT) allowed mothers not to pass the virus to their unborn children. But, there still were many cases when babies were born with or contracted the virus during breastfeeding.
As reported in the media on the 2nd October, within the last ten years, that is from 2010 up to now, the number of teenagers seeking treatment for HIV/Aids in South Africa has increased tenfold. The report was quoting The Lancet HIV journal which has put 7.2 million South Africans to be living with HIV. This is the largest number of people living with HIV in the world. The study quoted by the Lancet puts 9 out of 10 people receiving HIV treatment to be girls.
Though adolescent girls have the highest prevalence rate, and though some get infected via engaging in unprotected sexual encounters, others are infected through violence against them and gender inequality issues. Some of the teenagers seeking medical intervention were born with the virus as we have stated above. The ones born with the virus make use of the government of South Africa’s ART programme. This group coupled with others who are newly infected makes the number of teenagers seeking help high. Again, though the number of those on medication is high, still a greater number is not on any medication. These are the ones who fear stigma, the ones who do not want to be bothered with going to visit a health facility every now and then, those who do not trust the medical facilities and personnel to keep their private information confidential and so on.
What we are looking at then is a time that is not far off when all these people carrying the virus will reach the climax and the virus morphs into the Aids disease. Then we shall for sure have a crisis on our hands, another emergence of serious HIV/Aids crisis. The government should brace itself for another round of treating HIV/Aids patients with anti-retrovirals and this time, the population that will be infected will be huge.
What the costs and financial implications for the government through medical institutions and health care facilities will be in another five years or less need to be looked at now. Planning ahead especially when it is for something that cannot be avoided and is surely coming is a most wise thing. Public education and sensitizing the masses should continue being done with consistency so that new infections are avoided as much as is humanly possible. Our young people need to understand that just because a partner is on ARVs and does not look like they are sick, does not mean they cannot infect another person. The virus is still in their blood and body fluids and can and will be transmitted to the partner. It will grow and multiply in the new habitation and the cycle of infections and counter infections will not stop.
The fact that there are medications that allow a person to live with HIV for longer than was the case 2 and 3 decades ago has not changed the virus. It is still a deadly virus and the end results of an infection, is that it eventually kills. Let the young people know that being on ARVs does not give them the express permission to go around behaving irresponsibly. We must strive to get South Africa from the top of the world’s highest infection HIV/Aids list.