AIDS is not yesterday’s story

The Southern Cross review of the book “Catholic Responses to AIDS in Southern Africa” refers to a wide-spread belief that AIDS is yesterday’s story, and that there are more pressing health issues on the country’s agenda. Pressing though these issues are, and in need of being tackled from every possible angle, it would be and is a new form of denial to regard AIDS as something belonging to history. HIV and AIDS are still with us. Not yet showing signs of really abating, if the results of the Human Sciences Research Council study released in April 2014 are to be believed.

The study notes that in 2012 there were 469 000 new HIV infections in South Africa, more than 1000 new infections daily. 6,4 million people (12,2% of the population), are HIV positive. While South Africa has made huge treatment gains, regarding the number of people on treatment (2,2 million), brought down rates of mother to child HIV transmission , made gains in HIV counselling and testing rates, and increased the numbers of medical male circumcisions, there are signs of regression in the overall response to HIV from a prevention perspective.

The study noted increased HIV prevalence because of new infections and expanded anti-retroviral treatment, leading to a decrease in AIDS-related mortality. There are high prevalence rates of HIV in informal settlements. There is improved uptake of anti-retroviral treatment among children under 15, and adults over 50. Youth have the lowest exposure to treatment. Highlighted is the need for a balanced focus on prevention and treatment. The highest prevalence of HIV among females is 20-34 years, and in males 25-49 years, with highest rates of prevalence among cohabiting couples, and low rates of marriage in major urban areas.

Poor knowledge of HIV, increased, risk behaviours, sexual debut before 15 among girls in particular, age-disparate relationships between younger females (15-19) and older males, and multiple sexual partnerships continue to fuel the spread of HIV. Condom use among youths in the country is higher than among older people, but in general a lower condom use than in 2008 when condom use peaked.

There is a decrease in stigma and discrimination towards people with HIV, and an apparent stabilisation of orphanhood at 16,9% (3,1 million orphans).

The battle against AIDS is not over.