Is it possible for South Africa to stop the HIV/AIDS epidemic by 2030?
Namibia, our next-door neighbor, was one of the few nations to reach UNAids 90-90-90, which requires 90% of persons living with HIV to know their status, 90% of those who are positive to be on antiretroviral (ARV) medication, and 90% of those on treatment to achieve viral suppression.
Dr. Kalumbi Shangula, Namibia’s health minister, said on Wednesday that much of the achievement was due to a higher level of government commitment to the HIV/Aids crisis. He was giving a virtual talk to the International Conference on Aids and Sexually Transmitted Infections 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.
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.