Is South Africa winning the battle against Aids?

UNAIDS expects a reductions in Aids cases in South Africa by 2020 and attributes this to the change in political climate

South Africa has the highest number of HIV/Aids cases in the world.

In mid-2011, the number of infected people was estimated at 5.4 million, or 10.6% of the overall population. It is believed that the percentage is as high as 16.6% for the 15 to 29-year age group. Hlabisa, a municipality in Kwa Zulu Natal, is the area hardest hit by the HIV pandemic, with a prevalence of about 20% in the general population.

Although the rate of new HIV infections is still high, it is decreasing. In the period 2000-2005, it stood at about 2% to 2.4% a year, and in the period 2005-2010 at about 1.2% to 1.7% a year.

This is to a large extent due to a number of programmes introduced by the government.

In 2011, the country embarked on the world's largest HIV counselling and testing campaign. More than 14 million people were tested, and two million people were found to be HIV positive.

South Africa also has the world's largest antiretroviral programme, with over 1.3 million people currently receiving treatment. Consequently, the number of deaths due to HIV-related causes is declining.

Especially important is the success of the programme for prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV. Recent health statistics say that transmission rates have declined from 10% to 3.5 % over the past three years. KwaZulu-Natal, the province with 40% of HIV prevalence among pregnant women (the national average is estimated at a little below 30%) reported the mother-to-child transmission rate of only 2%.

Research also shows that young people are engaging in safer sex practices by using condoms, which has led to a slight decrease in new infections among young people.

The representatives of UNAIDS, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, recently voiced a prediction that South Africa will see a massive reductions in the incidence of HIV infections by 2020. This is mainly attributed to the political commitment. After the change at the top of the ruling ANC and the government in 2008, there has been a turnaround in the country’s approach to HIV/Aids, from denial to recognising the problem and coming to grips with it.

On World Aids Day, 1 December 2011, President Jacob Zuma launched the 2012-2016 South African National Strategic Plan (NSP) on HIV, sexually transmitted infections and TB. The inclusion of TB recognises the high co-infection of HIV and TB in the country.

The NSP has five goals: to halve the number of new HIV infections; to ensure that at least 80% of eligible people receive the HIV treatment; to halve the number of new TB infections and deaths from TB; to ensure that the rights of people living with HIV are protected; and halve stigma related to HIV and TB.

The long-term aim is to realise the UNAIDS vision of “zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination, and zero AIDS-related deaths”, to which South Africa also added a fourth zero plan: “zero new infections due to mother-to-child transmission”.