Almost one in five (17%) of South African adults aged between 15 and 49 have HIV – a five percentage point increase from 2000. Picture: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency
HIV/AIDS is a leading cause of disease burden in sub-Saharan Africa and new study reveals that almost one in five (17%) of South African adults aged between 15 and 49 have HIV – a five percentage point increase from 2000.

According to a study by the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), recently published in the journal Nature, a total of 5.3 million South Africans under the age of 50 are HIV-positive.

The study found South Africa’s HIV adult prevalence rate was much higher than most other countries, including Kenya (5.6%), Nigeria (3%), Namibia (13.8%), Zimbabwe (13.5%) and Mozambique (11.9%).

But according to the research, South Africa’s high rate is partly because more people are living longer with HIV due to antiretroviral therapies.

The research also showed how few Africans have access to antiretrovirals. 

According to Unicef, 34% of HIV positive people in East and Southern Africa and 60% of people in West and Central Africa are not currently on treatment.  HIV/Aids was responsible for 135 399 deaths in South Africa during 2017.

In 2017, the highest estimated HIV prevalence at the second administrative level in South Africa was 29.7%, in uMgungundlovu District Municipality in KwaZulu-Natal. The lowest prevalence of HIV/Aids was 7.6%, in the West Coast District Municipality.

The director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr John Nkengasong, said the paper provided geographic estimates of HIV prevalence and the number of people living with HIV, helping to better prioritise areas for health-care support.

"Changing the trajectory of HIV/Aids in Africa requires that we continue to seek better ways to know the epidemic. This paper will support policymakers and health-care providers in locating hot spots of HIV/Aids at national and sub-national levels. It will also help guide smart investment of scarce resources for diagnosis, prevention and treatment," Nkengasong said.

The study is available at IHME’s website at www.healthdata.org; data visualisations are available at https://vizhub.healthdata.org/lbd/hiv.