For The People

7.9 Million Infected with HIV in South Africa

The 9th aids conference took place at the Inkosi Albert Luthuli International Convention Centre in Durban from the 11-13th of June. The conference highlighted the best practices to improve control of the epidemic.

The theme of the conference was Unprecedented Innovations and Technologies: HIV and Change. More than 3,000 delegates attended, about 25% of them from other countries. Prof Refilwe Phaswana-Mafuya, deputy vice chancellor research & innovation at North-West University, chaired the conference.

South African medical research council (SAMRC) President, Prof Glend Gray said more than six million people in the country were infected with the virus leaving South Africa with the world’s largest HIV treatment programme.

Gray also added that the good news is that South Africa is at the forefront of HIV vaccine research. Four large-scale HIV vaccine efficacy clinical trials are taking place at research sites across the country, Gray serves as the president of SAMRC and director of the HIV Vaccine Trials Network Africa Programmes.

With South Africa’s population standing at 58 million people, 7.9-million are currently living with HIV and at least 4.4 million on treatment, but there is inadequate progress towards the UN 90-90-90 global targets: 90% of people will know their HIV status, 90% with HIV will get sustainable antiretroviral therapy, 90% on treatment will have viral suppression.

New HIV infections in South Africa are declining but the infection rate among young people, particularly teenage girls and young women, is still shockingly high.

Almost four women per 100, aged 16 to 35, are infected with HIV every year, a study on the safety of three contraceptives including Depo-Provera found. The contraceptive is safe. Nearly 8,000 women from South Africa, Kenya, Zambia and Swaziland took part in the clinical trial, and the results were announced on Thursday by Prof Helen Rees, one of the trial leaders and director of the Wits Reproductive Health Institute (WRHI).

Professor of medicine Francois Venter, head of Ezintsha, a WHRI sub-syndicate, says of the results, “If ever there was a wake-up call for the family planning sector, this is it. We should be treating women accessing these services as an emergency for access to HIV prevention, especially PrEP –pre-exposure prophylactic treatment”.

According to the Higher Education and Training HIV/AIDS Programme (HEAIDS), the number of young girls infected weekly with HIV in South Africa has dropped but still remains unacceptably high.

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