Study: Aids slashes SA's life expectancy

South Africa, which has the world’s second-heaviest caseload of HIV/Aids, has seen average life expectancy fall by 13 years since 1990 to 51, a new study has revealed.

A survey by the Medical Research Council (MRC) and Actuarial Society of South Africa, based on epidemiological and demographic data, said life expectancy this year was “estimated to be 49 years for males and 53 years for females”, or an average of 51.

“By 2005, the HIV/Aids pandemic has already taken about 13 years off life expectancy,” it said.

Senior MRC researcher Debbie Bradshaw said life expectancy in South Africa had been on average 64 years in 1990.

A mathematical Aids model was used to determine how much the disease contributed to the decline in population figures.

South Africa is second to India as the country with the highest number of HIV-infected people in the world.

About 5,5-million people in a population of 47-million are living with HIV or Aids.

The government has come under fire for delays in rolling out lifesaving antiretroviral (ARV) drugs.

According to government figures for September, 213 000 infected people now benefit from a government-funded ARV plan, and 11 000 more join each month.

The study said that without the ARV programme, “the decrease in life expectancy would be nearly 19 years by 2015, with an average life expectancy of less than 48 years.

Based on a scenario developed by researchers that by 2015 50% of those needing treatment will be receiving it, the impact of Aids deaths could slow down in the coming years.

“With the programme, the difference is expected to reduce below 16 years, giving a life expectancy of 50 years.”

‘HIV-associated cancers have increased’

Meanwhile, an expert said on Monday that Africa lacks the resources and skills to combat some kinds of cancers that are spreading due to HIV and Aids.

“There is such a huge amount of HIV in Africa ... that HIV-associated cancers have also increased in prevalence,” Ian Magrath of the International Network for Cancer Treatment and Research told the media on the sidelines of a continental conference in Cape Town.

“There are treatments available for HIV-related cancers, some of which are quite effective, but there is the problem of limitations in the health service, lack of expertise, the cost of drugs ... sometimes the lack of radiation therapy facilities and a lack of infrastructure.”

At least 20 African countries have no radiotherapy centres, he said.

HIV infection reduces the body’s natural ability to destroy cancerous cells and makes sufferers more prone to infections, Magrath said.

Some cancers, such as Kaposi’s sarcoma and the majority of cervical cancers, are caused by viral infection.

Magrath said Kaposi’s sarcoma is burgeoning in Africa and is the third most prevalent type of cancer among East African women.

Definitive statistics are hard to come by as few African countries have cancer registries.

An estimated 2,5-million people die of Aids in Africa every year, with up to a quarter of the populations of some countries thought to be infected with HIV.

The conference of world cancer experts, hosted by the International Atomic Energy Agency, urged African governments to prioritise cancer.—Sapa-AFP

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