SA’s HIV treatment programme has saved 1.3-million lives

South Africa’s HIV treatment programme has saved 1.3-million lives over the past two decades, according to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and Aids’ (UNAids) latest Aids report that was released on Tuesday. South Africa has the largest number of people – 3.2-million – on antiretroviral treatment in the world. 

But the report warns that although the country’s HIV treatment coverage has nearly doubled from 25% of HIV-infected people in 201, to 45% in 2014, South Africa would have to substantially increase its treatment coverage in the next five years to reach UNAids’ target of getting 90% of all HIV-infected people on treatment by 2020. 

UNAids launched its 90-90-90 targets – which have to be reached by 2020 – last year, in an effort to end the Aids epidemic by 2030. The targets include having 90% of people living with HIV knowing their status, 90% of HIV-positive people on treatment and 90% of people on treatment with a suppressed viral load (viral loads low enough for HIV-positive people’s immune systems to remain strong and for them to stop being infectious). 

According to the report, life expectancy in South Africa has increased from 52 years in 2004 to 61 years in 2014, and infant mortality dropped from 58 to 29 deaths per 1000 live births between 2002 and 2014. Experts have attributed these successes largely to the availability of antiretroviral drugs.  

South Africa, however, still has the largest HIV epidemic in the world with 6.8-million people infected with the virus. The country had 330 000 new HIV infections in 2014 among people of 15 years and older. 

About 65% of South Africans have been tested for HIV.  UNAids warned that the pace of the global response to HIV ”is too slow”. ”Ending the Aids epidemic will require extraordinary efforts in leadership, investment and focus over the next five years to deliver even more services and even greater social change,” The UNAids report said. 

According to UNAids the gains made with access to treatment, and people living longer as a result thereof, present new challenges. ”Because of the life-saving benefits of treatment, the total number of people living with HIV is rising, which underscores the need for more effective prevention efforts.”

Other global findings
As of June 2015, 15.8 million people living with HIV were accessing antiretroviral therapy, up from 13.6 million in June 2014.

New HIV infections have fallen by 35% since 2000. New HIV infections among children have declined by 58% since 2000. Aids-related deaths have fallen by 42% since the peak in 2004. Forty-four low and middle-income countries looked to international donors for 75% or more of their Aids financing needs. UNAids estimates that $31.9-billion will be required for the Aids response in 2020, with $29.3-billion required in 2030.


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Ina Skosana
Ina Skosana was a health reporter at Bhekisisa, the Mail & Guardian’s centre for health journalism, from 2013 to 2017.

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