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HIV/AIDS in South Africa

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Home to more than 5 million people living with HIV/AIDS, South Africa is one of the continents hardest hit by the AIDS epidemic. South Africa’s HIV/AIDS prevalence rate (the percent of people living with HIV/AIDS) is among the highest in the world, although recently prevalence rates have begun to stabilize.

The epidemic has already had a profound impact on many aspects of South African society and is projected to affect the country’s demographic structure and its economic, education, and health sectors if more is not done to stem its tide. As a middle-income country of significant political and economic importance in the African continent, the future course of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in South Africa will have broader implications for Africa overall.

South Africa’s response to HIV has been abysmal: the latest National HIV and Syphilis prevalence survey 2007 estimates that between 26.9% and 29.1% of pregnant women had HIV. In 2006 it had been between 28.3% and 29.9%, though in 2005 it was between 29.1% and 31.2 %.

Even if the annual number of new infections peaked in the late 1990’s, the long period during which HIV apparently lies dormant – averaging between seven and 10 years – means that the number of deaths resulting from the virus will continue to rise. Estimates by Rob Dorrington, professor of actuarial science at UCT, and his colleagues are that by the middle of 2006 almost 600,000 people had Aids and during that year 479 000 people had moved from being HIV—positive to having AIDS.

In 2007, an estimated 350,000 South Africans died of HIV/AIDS. AIDS has been cited as the major cause of premature deaths in the country–AIDS–related deaths are estimated to have accounted for nearly half of all deaths in 2006 and overall death rates, from all causes, have increased by about 80% largely due to HIV/AIDS.

Without effective interventions to preserve the health of mother and child, about one–third of children would become infected with HIV during late pregnancy, birth or breast feeding. Pregnancy is an additional risk to a woman with a compromised immune system especially if she is not provided with the levels of nutrition she needs.

As with other sexually transmitted infections, HIV is most common among teenagers and adults who are sexually active. This is also the age group that tends to be most economically productive as well as producing their own families. Among young South Africans aged 15—24, young women are significantly more likely to be HIV–infected than young men.


Young women aged 25—29 have the highest rates of infection in the country. In addition, in 2007, 280,000 children under the age of 15 in South Africa were estimated to be living with HIV/AIDS and there were more than one million AIDS orphans.

Regionally, there is significant variation in the epidemic’s impact, with the highest rates occurring in KwaZulu–Natal and Mpumalanga, and the lowest in the Western Cape and Northern Cape.

CONCERN ABOUT HIV/AIDS AND OTHER EPIDEMICS: South Africans are concerned about HIV/AIDS. More than eight in ten (88%) say that HIV/AIDS and other epidemics are a "very big" problem in their country and nine in ten (91%) South Africans say that HIV/AIDS is a bigger problem in their country today than it was 5 years ago. South African youth also express concern about HIV/AIDS. Six in ten named HIV/AIDS as the most important issue facing young people in the country in a recent survey; six in ten also were very concerned about becoming infected with HIV in the next 10 years.

Sourced from Kaiser Family Foundation Fact Sheet, July 2008 and Mail & Guardian – Belinda Beresford