Progress made towards HIV/Aids by reducing infections and increasing disease management, but challenges remain

Friends from the Springfield area visited the Aids ribbon site at the famous Gugu Dlamini Park. File Picture: Tumi Pakkies / Independent Newspapers

Friends from the Springfield area visited the Aids ribbon site at the famous Gugu Dlamini Park. File Picture: Tumi Pakkies / Independent Newspapers

Published Dec 13, 2023


By Dr Kate Ssamula

“When I found out at 14 that I was HIV positive, I didn’t think I would live to see 18,” said Saidy Brown, a sexual and reproductive health advocate well known for her HIV work.

She is now 28 years old. Saidy’s story is a positive reminder that there are many men and women, young and old, who continue to live positively with the virus and go further by working towards changing the lives of those around them.

South Africa stands as a beacon of progress and innovation, weaving a compelling narrative unveiled in the recently released sixth South African National HIV Prevalence, Incidence, Behaviour and Communication Survey (SABSSM VI) by the Human Science Research Council (HSRC).

Though the study had positive facts, with a slight decrease in new HIV infections, there is still significant work ahead – the fight is far from over. The battle lines, long drawn, are raging on as the epidemic continues to wreak havoc; taking parents away and leaving children to raise children. We cannot continue with business as usual, children raising children is an urgent call for us to collectively act intentionally to shift the narrative. Although steps are being made, we must accelerate.

By 2022, there were 7.8 million People living with HIV (PLHIV), the positive here is that five years earlier, in 2017, PLHIV stood at an estimated 7.9 million, which covered all ages. The report further found that “90% of PHLIV aged 15 and older knew their status: slightly higher among females (92%) than among males (85%). Individuals were classified as being diagnosed or knowing their HIV status if they self-reported being HIV positive and/or on ART, or if they had a detectable viral load in their blood.”

For South Africa, politics and income inequality are further prevalent in the SABSSMI.

Females aged 15 and older are at a higher risk of being infected by HIV than their male counterparts. That’s a red flag – one that proves there is still a long road for women’s equality in SA and the dangers of this development if not appropriately addressed. So, as the report points out, there are more than 7,4 million South Africans aged 15 and older living with HIV, with the majority being women and young women specifically.

Worryingly, the report found that young men aged between 15 and 24 have a low usage of condoms, yet they live in areas where there is high HIV prevalence. This is a further indicator that we need more conversations around the boy child and what interventions can be employed. Further, there needs to be a focus on targeted groups such as the youth, the LGBTQI Community, people living with HIV, vulnerable people at risk of contracting HIV and STIs, and the general population.

In a highly HIV-affected country such as SA, we must remain vigilant and ensure we see the success of the National Strategic Plan 2023-2028. As a strategic partner, AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) South Africa seeks a better implementation of the NSP and a view of how these actions will be carried out, particularly with highly impacted areas being prioritised.

The NSP states: “Robust and resilient health systems are essential for effective response to HIV and other health outcomes. In the past decade, resilience has emerged as a key concept for health and social systems globally.” This is welcomed, and we should all be resilient and stop making decisions that portray us as failing those we are meant to care for.

In our 36-year existence and 21 years in South Africa, AHF has been intentional in our work fighting HIV/AIDS – work that has taken us to most parts of the country, where we continue to seek to change lives, one programme at a time.

AHF has in recent weeks done fantastic work in KwaMashu in Durban, Dutywa, Eastern Cape, and Diepsloot, Johannesburg. This is where we recognise and remember lives lost to Aids-related illnesses, support those continuing the fight, and continue striving to bring everyone together as the world forges ahead battling HIV/Aids. As UNAIDS said in its recent report, the power of grassroots communities needs to be utilised and supported, as they can play a critical role in the battle against HIV/Aids.

Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, and Mpumalanga, according to the SABSSM, are the provinces with a high prevalence of HIV and new infections. In this light, AHF South Africa has continued to implement programmes in EC and KZN, indicating there is more work to be done in other rural provinces, such as Mpumalanga. Comprehensive interventions are needed, not being rich in theory but being thorough in practical implementation as we aim to bring change, one that’s for the betterment of human lives.

The above indicates the urgency of keeping our young girls and women in mind, as we roll up our sleeves, get our hands dirty, and turn the wheel. As partners and collaborative organisations, we need to work harder to promote prevention awareness and identify the treatment needs across polarised communities that face scant resources daily.

* Dr. Kate Ssamula is the Country Program Director at the Aids Healthcare Foundation.

** The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of IOL or Independent Media.