CAPE TOWN, South Africa — Approximately 7 million people are living with HIV in South Africa today, and over 180,000 AIDS-related deaths occurred there in 2015. The prevalence rate of HIV in South Africa is 19.2 percent, making elimination of the disease a top priority for the country.
The South African government allocates one billion dollars annually to its HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention programs, which are the largest in the world. Already, 48 percent of those infected are on anti-viral medications, but the goal, apart from preventing the expansion of HIV in South Africa, is for everyone to receive proper treatment.
The South African government follows the World Health Organization’s policies for care and treatment of HIV/AIDS. The country believes that making HIV testing accessible is an effective means of prevention.
The South African antiretroviral (ARV) treatment program uses different strategies to help people seeking tests or treatments feel as comfortable as possible. The program delegates medical responsibilities not only to doctors and pharmacists but also to counselors and pharmacy technicians. For people who may be hesitant to seek public medical testing, in-home HIV tests are available at pharmacies.
September marked the beginning of the ARV medication expansion plan in South Africa. With the help of Right to Care, a non-profit that helps run clinics, ARVs will now be offered to all HIV-infected patients. Instead of receiving treatment based on their CD4 cell count, patients will be given ARVs as soon as they test positive for HIV.
ARVs suppress the disease, lower the chance of transmission and keep it from progressing into AIDS. People who test HIV-negative or have not yet been tested are being encouraged to retake the test once every year.
The goal of this project, known as 90-90-90 by 2020, is a fundamental step suggested by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS). South Africa hopes to make 90 percent of people infected with HIV in the country aware of their status, treat 90 percent of HIV patients with ARVs and make the virus virtually undetectable in 90 percent of patients by 2020.
The strategy is working in accompaniment with other prevention methods, including increased sexual education for teens and young adults, availability of condoms to prevent the spread of HIV, voluntary male circumcision, which reduces female to male transmission, and availability of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) medication to at-high-risk individuals such as sex workers and vulnerable young women.
Although South Africa is deeply committed to ending HIV/AIDS, procuring funding is a struggle. The prevalence of HIV in South Africa makes the country one of the top consumers of ARVs in the world. Unfortunately, this appears to have made it easy prey for greedy pharmaceutical companies that require it to pay amounts well above what other lower-middle class countries pay for their ARVs.
To provide ARVs to everyone in need, the South African government will be increasing its annual budget for HIV/AIDS programs by $65 million. The U.N. hopes to contribute to the country’s success by providing an additional $8 million over the next five years.
– Amy Whitman