The number of HIV-infected individuals in South Africa has significantly decreased for the first time in recent years, according to a study. According to research by the South African Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), 12.7 percent of the 62 million South Africans have the HIV virus, which can cause the immune deficiency disease AIDS. In a 2017 study, 14 percent of the population was infected.
HSRC research leader Khangelani Zuma stated that there is no simple explanation for the decline in infection rates, as the reasons are “complex.” South Africa is among the countries most severely affected by the ongoing AIDS epidemic that has persisted for four decades.
While the study indicates progress, it also highlights gaps in combating the HIV epidemic in South Africa. Infection rates vary significantly across different geographic regions and population groups, with a particular impact on Black individuals, women, and young people.
Geographically, there are notable differences. In the southwestern province of Western Cape, with the capital Cape Town, only eight percent of individuals over 15 years old are affected, compared to 22 percent in the eastern KwaZulu-Natal province, with the capital Durban. Additionally, HIV prevalence among women is almost double that of men, with 20 percent compared to 12 percent.
Disproportionately Affected: Black South Africans
Blacks are more affected, with a 20 percent prevalence, compared to the mixed-race population (“Coloureds”) at five percent, Whites and Indians, and other Asians at approximately one percent. Zuma, the study leader, emphasized, “The most pronounced differences in HIV prevalence by gender were found in younger population groups, necessitating targeted measures.”
South Africa records more individual HIV cases than any other country and about a third of all cases on the African continent. In recent years, over 85,000 people in the country have died from AIDS annually. The increased use of antiretroviral therapy (ART) has radically changed the outlook for HIV/AIDS patients.
The study’s scientists also highlighted the global decline in condom use, considered an effective tool in preventing the spread of AIDS.
In July, the UNAIDS program, part of the United Nations, conveyed a hopeful message: by 2030, the immune deficiency disease could be largely defeated if there is global political will and financial commitment.