Johannesburg - South Africa is an “outstanding model” of what can be achieved in the fight against HIV and Aids, according to Michel Sidibe, executive director of the Joint UN Programme on HIV and Aids (UNAids).
Sidibe was in Pretoria on Monday for the release of the UNAids report, “Getting to zero: HIV in Eastern and Southern Africa”.
In the past five years there has been “extraordinary progress” in reducing HIV in Eastern and Southern Africa, including a 38 percent reduction in Aids-related deaths, according to UNAids.
Half-a-million fewer Africans died in 2011, including 100 000 fewer South Africans, than in 2005, when Aids claimed an estimated 1.3 million people. This is largely thanks to a tenfold increase in access to antiretroviral medicine.
In a single year – between 2011 and 2012 – an extra 1 million people in the region got access to ARVs, bringing the number of people on treatment to 6.3 million.
One-third of those on ARVs are South Africans, according to UNAids.
“In 2010, South Africa embarked on an unprecedented national campaign to provide free treatment to all eligible people living with HIV, coupled with a massive programme of testing and counselling for HIV and screening for TB,” according to UNAids.
“During the last financial year, more than 9 million people were tested for HIV. The country currently has the largest antiretroviral treatment programme in the world, with over 2.1 million people receiving ART.”
A large study in KwaZulu-Natal, the province worst affected by HIV, recorded an 11-year increase in life expectancy in a mere seven years (2007 to 2011).
South Africa also managed to slash mother-to-child infection by 50 percent in two years (between 2009 and 2011), while the region managed to cut HIV infection from mothers to their newborn babies by one-third.
“Most countries in the region are within reach of the goal of eliminating new HIV infections among children by 2015 and keeping their mothers alive,” according to UNAids.
Almost three-quarters of pregnant HIV-positive women in the region had access to treatment to prevent transmission to their babies.
In the past decade, there has also been a 30 percent decline in new HIV infections, rolling the infection rate back to the level it was in 1998. In South Africa, new infections among adults have dropped by 41 percent.
“We have made significant progress in reducing new infections among children. We should keep the momentum going,” said Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi.
“We need to ensure that women continue to benefit from universal access to antiretroviral treatment so that we can reduce maternal mortality. No women or baby should be left behind.”
Motsoaledi said while South Africa has made progress in putting 2 million people on treatment, the aim was to reach 3.5 million people by 2015.
Amid progress, there are still serious weaknesses, according to UNAids. Uganda has had a 21 percent increase in new HIV infections over the past decade, while there have been minimal decreases in Lesotho and Tanzania.
In addition, less than a third of HIV-positive children are on ARVs, which is “unacceptably low”.
“The low ART coverage in children was due to countries not having proper diagnostics and proper following-up strategies for mothers with children born with HIV. But a major challenge was that there wasn’t a proper treatment regimen catering for children,” says Sidibe.
Finally, there was an estimated shortfall of $7 billion (R69bn) if all countries were to scale up to meet the HIV challenge. – Health-e News Service
* If you use Gmail to read IOL's newsletters, note that Google is rolling out a new tabbed inbox that filters your mail into 5 separate tabs - Primary, Social, Promotions, Updates and Forums. IOL emails will probably be sent to the "Promotions" tab instead of the "Primary" tab. If you don't want it that way, drag the newsletter from the Promotions tab to the Primary tab. An alert will pop up. Click "yes" and your newsletters will continue to go to your Primary inbox.