Johannesburg (Pic: Adamina)
More people than ever are living with HIV in South Africa, but this may actually represent a degree of progress in the fight against the virus.
A new scientific paper, published in Nature, provides precise geographic estimates of HIV prevalence and the numbers of sub-Saharan Africans living with HIV to identify priority areas for health care support.
The study, conducted at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington, found that the highest estimated HIV prevalence in South Africa was 29.7% in the uMgungundlovu District Municipality in KwaZulu-Natal.
The lowest prevalence was 7.6% in the West Coast District Municipality in the Western Cape. The study also found that the largest number of people aged 15-49 living with HIV reside in the City of Johannesburg Metropolitan Municipality.
Overall, 17% of South African adults aged between 15 and 49 (5.3 million South Africans) are living with HIV, which represents a five percentage point increase from 2000.
While the increase appears alarming, it’s believed that this is in large part attributed to more HIV positive people living longer thanks to antiretroviral (ARV) treatment.
“I do not think SA’s epidemic is getting worse,” University of KwaZulu-Natal pharmacologist Andy Gray told Times Live. “Prevalence would also be expected to increase as mortality drops because of antiretroviral therapy. More persons living with HIV are living longer.”
Despite the growing use of ARVs, HIV/AIDS is still the most common cause of death in sub-Saharan Africa. The researchers hope that the latest study will help health authorities better track and fight the epidemic.
“Changing the trajectory of HIV/AIDS in Africa requires that we continue to seek better ways to know the epidemic,” said Dr. John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC). “This paper will support policymakers and health care providers in locating hotspots of HIV/AIDS at national and subnational levels, and will help guide smart investment of scarce resources for diagnosis, prevention, and treatment.”
Free HIV testing and treatment is available at no cost at government clinics across South Africa as well as clinics that specifically serve gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men. These include Engage Men’s Health in Melville, Johannesburg (010 500 0934), OUT’s TEN81 Centre in Pretoria (012 430 3272 / 066 190 5812) and the Ivan Toms Clinic in Greenpoint, Cape Town (021 447 2844).