South Africa has the most high profile HIV epidemic in the world. Data gathered by Avert showed that in 2003 they had about 6.3 million people that were HIV Positive and even with the high level of awareness at the time there were still about 330,000 new infections added that year and 200,000 South Africans died from AIDS-related illnesses.
The government of South Africa has instituted the largest anti-retroviral (ARV) treatment programme globally in the country, financing the efforts with mostly domestic resources. Avert reports that the country now invests more than $1 billion annually to run its HIV and AIDS programmes.
Despite these efforts, HIV prevalence in the country remains high. In the general population, HIV prevalence is up to 19.1% and varies markedly in different regions.
Intensifying the efforts, South Africa’s government has announced a plan for free treatment for all HIV Positive citizens. Starting today, all South Africans who are HIV Positive will be entitled to anti-retroviral (ARV) treatment from the state before they get ill.
It is good news for the many people who are living with the virus and yet are not on any medication. Prior to the announcement of this new measure, only HIV Positive people with a CD4 count – a measure of the strength of the immune system – below 500 were qualified to receive treatment from the government.
The Ministry of Health spokesperson, Joe Maila told a BBC correspondent;
“This is going to increase life expectancy to at least 70 by 2030.”
One thing that the measure may not intercept is the needed interventions for sex workers. Although sex work accounts for an estimated 19.8% of all new HIV infections in South Africa, sex workers in South Africa face high levels of stigma and discrimination and are restricted by the laws under which they have to work.
If that stigma continues to persist, they still may not take advantage of the now available services and the high levels of HIV prevalence could still likewise persist.