Top scientist Quarraisha Abdool Karim concerned with high number of HIV/Aids deaths
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Pretoria - Leading scientist Professor Quarraisha Abdool Karim has expressed concern over the high number of deaths as a result of HIV/Aids despite the availability of free ARV treatment at various government health facilities.
Abdool Karim said there were 800 million people living with HIV worldwide, and nearly 700 000 deaths have been recorded.
“Along with those numbers that we see in terms of people living with HIV are the results of the benefits from antiretroviral treatment access. However, despite that, it is deeply concerning that we still continue to see people dying of Aids,” she said.
Abdool Karim, who has been an epidemiologist for more than three decades, was speaking at the Science Forum South Africa 2020 last week.
She said the rate of mortalities due to Aids could be attributed to a range of issues such as stigmatisation.
She lamented the fact that those living with HIV were marginalised in their professional choices and sexual orientation.
“And it is this marginalisation of groups of individuals and communities that precludes the ability to access these life-saving drugs," Karim said.
Of great concern to her was that the 2019 UNAids statistics showed there were at least 1.7 million new infections, which translated to an estimated 5 000 new cases daily.
She bemoaned the fact that the target of the UNAids 2030 strategy, to realise zero new infections, zero deaths and zero stigma, was unlikely to be reached given the latest developments.
The target included halving the rate of infection by half-a-million infections by 2020.
“You can see that the 1.7 million infections is three times more than the target which was to be achieved in 2020 and we are almost at the end of 2020,” she said.
At least 7% of the infections were taking place in sub-Saharan Africa. “Moreover, young women between the ages of 15 and 24, who make up 10% of our population, account for one in four infections,” Abdool Karim said.
One in five infections occur in South Africa, but the epidemic was unevenly distributed, with KwaZulu-Natal, accounting for most cases.
She cited an example of schoolgirls in Grades 9 and 10 in rural KZN, among whom the prevalence of the virus remained under 2%. “In contrast you see already by age 15 about 2.6% infection increases steadily, and by the time they reach 20 we see one in four infections in these high school kids.”
The age-sex difference was a unique characteristic of the epidemic in eastern and sub-Saharan Africa, and mostly accounted for 55% of infections in those two regions.
“Sub-Saharan Africa is unique in that it is the one place in the world where the majority of its population is young and under the age of 35. So, when we begin the decimation of half of the population before they reach maturity, we are putting at risk an important demographic dividend that exists in this continent,” she said.
There was also a continuing trend of women under 25 being infected by men from aged 35 to 40.
“These men are in turn getting infected from women aged from 25 to 40,” Abdool Karim said.
About 40% of men from the age of 25 to 40 were having relationships with women under the age of 25.