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Can SA end the HIV/Aids epidemic by 2030?

Antiretroviral (ARV) drugs. File picture: Nic Bothma/EPA

Antiretroviral (ARV) drugs. File picture: Nic Bothma/EPA

Published Dec 8, 2021


Durban - Promises of a better future with equal medical care for all are currently being discussed by some of the world’s most prominent political and scientific individuals from across the world at the ICC in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, in efforts to put an end to the HIV/Aids epidemic.

But with most countries not being able to meet the “ambitious” UNAids 90-90-90 global target set out in 2016, questions could be asked as to whether South African politics would be able to put an end to the virus by 2030.

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Our next door neighbour, Namibia, was one of few countries to have met the UNAids 90-90-90, which requires 90% of people with HIV to know their status, 90% who are positive to be on antiretroviral (ARV) treatment and 90% on treatment to achieve viral suppression.

Namibian health minister Dr Kalumbi Shangula said on Wednesday that much of the success was owed to the increased level of political commitment around the challenge of HIV/Aids. He was speaking during a virtual address at the International Conference on Aids and STIs in Africa (Icasa).

CEO of the South African National Aids Council Dr Thabisile Xulu said the country’s swift political action in the face of the face of Covid-19 pandemic was because of lessons learnt in dealing with HIV/Aids.

Xulu was touching on the South African government's policies in dealing with the virus in the early 2000s, under the stewardship of former president Thabo Mbeki.

“Because of HIV lessons, our initial response to Covid has been radically different from the early days of the HIV response. It is common knowledge that our initial response to HIV was slow, resulting in significant conflicts with civil society and a delay in the rollout of access to life-saving medication, until eight years later when there was decisive political leadership that resulted in the largest HIV treatment programme in the world,” she said.

Around 35 000 babies were born with HIV infections during 2000-2005, according to a Harvard study conducted by Zimbabwean born Pride Chigwedere.

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Chigwedere’s study found that more than 330 000 premature HIV/Aids deaths between 2000 and 2005 as a result of health policies under the Mbeki administration, who denied that HIV causes Aids. Those policies in turn denied ARVs to the people in need.

As of 2019, South Africa had around 7.5 million HIV positive citizens and recorded 200 000 new cases during the same year, according to data from UNAids. In 2018, 90% of these infected people knew their status. 68% were on treatment. 87% who were diagnosed and on treatment were virally suppressed.

The country’s ARV treatment or ART programme has been hailed internationally for its success in many aspects, one of which was increasing life expectancy among infected individuals. In 2017, the state had been injecting more than $1.54 billion annually into ART under the leadership of former president Jacob Zuma.

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Political Bureau

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