South Africa has made remarkable progress towards achieving the UNAIDS 95-95-95 targets for HIV/Aids, according to a 2022 survey.
These targets aim to ensure that by 2025, 95% of all people living with HIV are aware of their status, 95% of those aware are on antiretroviral treatment (ART) and 95% of those on ART achieve viral load suppression.
The survey revealed that among people aged 15 years and older living with HIV in South Africa, 90% were aware of their status, 91% of those aware were on ART and 94% of those on ART were virally suppressed.
However, the survey conducted by the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), also shed light on the remaining gaps in addressing the HIV epidemic in South Africa.
The impact of the epidemic varies across geographic regions and populations, with black Africans, women and young people being particularly affected.
HIV prevalence ranged from 8% in the Western Cape Province to 22% in KwaZulu-Natal. Additionally, HIV prevalence was nearly twice as high among women (20%) compared to men (12%), and the highest among black Africans (20%), followed by coloureds (5%), with the lowest among whites and Indian/Asian people (1% each).
Professor Khangelani Zuma, Divisional Executive of the Public Health, Societies, and Belonging Division of the HSRC and the Principal Investigator of the survey, highlighted the need for focused interventions among younger populations.
HIV prevalence among females aged 15-19 years was approximately two-fold higher than males of the same age group (5.6% vs. 3%, respectively).
This disparity continued in the 20-24 years age group (8% vs. 4%) and was three-fold higher in females aged 25-29 (20% vs. 6%).
To address these challenges, organizations like Shout-It-Now have partnered with the Gauteng Department of Health to provide comprehensive HIV prevention interventions in communities across Tshwane and Ekurhuleni.
These include biomedical prevention services, structured behavioural interventions targeting vulnerable adolescent girls and young women, their parents and their male sex partners, as well as support for survivors of gender-based violence.
In the ongoing effort to combat the spread of HIV, Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) plays a crucial role. PEP is an emergency measure administered within 72 hours of potential exposure to prevent HIV transmission.
Unlike long-term strategies like Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), PEP provides a rapid response for individuals facing sudden risks. It reduces HIV transmission rates, offers choices in prevention methods, and empowers individuals.
PEP's significance lies in its ability to provide rapid and time-sensitive response to situations where there is a risk of HIV transmission.
It acts as a vital emergency protection measure for unexpected situations, such as sexual assault, condom breakage or needlestick injuries.
Incorporating PEP into the HIV prevention toolkit enhances the comprehensiveness of available strategies. While PrEP is designed for ongoing protection, PEP serves as an additional layer of defence for situations that are not amenable to planned, long-term prevention methods.
6 Reasons why post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) is important in HIV Prevention:
Rapid response to potential exposure
PEP provides a quick and time-sensitive response when there is a risk of HIV transmission.
Taking PEP within 72 hours of potential exposure significantly reduces the chances of getting infected by the virus. Acting fast and seeking healthcare services promptly is crucial.
PEP acts as a vital emergency protection measure for unexpected situations. Whether it's a sexual assault, condom breakage or needlestick injury, PEP ensures that individuals have an immediate option to prevent HIV infection after a high-risk event.
Comprehensive prevention strategy
Incorporating PEP into HIV prevention makes existing strategies more effective. While Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) is for continual protection, PEP adds an extra layer of defence for unexpected situations.
Choice and empowerment
The existence of both PrEP and PEP help empower individuals to tailor their HIV prevention strategies. It gives them the freedom to choose the method that best suits their unique circumstances and preferences.
This empowerment encourages active engagement in healthcare decisions and promotes a sense of control over one's own well-being.
Reduction of transmission rates
Using PEP plays a significant role in reducing HIV transmission rates. PEP stops the virus from taking hold in the exposed person. This not only protects the individual but also helps in the broader effort to reduce HIV spread in communities.
Prevention across diverse scenarios
PEP can be used in a variety of situations where HIV transmission is a risk, such as occupational exposures to healthcare workers, sexual encounters, or injection drug abuse.
Its versatility makes it a valuable component in the HIV prevention landscape, ensuring that different situations are addressed effectively.