HIV infections on decline

There has been a reported decline in new HIV infections.
There has been a reported decline in new HIV infections.
Image: AFP

New HIV infections have significantly declined over the past five years, with the HIV incidence rate of 0.48% observed in 2017 compared to the 2012 infection rate of 0.85%.

According to the results of the Human Sciences Research Council’s SA National HIV Prevalence, Incidence, Behaviour and Communication Survey for 2017 released in Pretoria on Tuesday, this decreasing trend was consistent with the previous estimates of HIV prevalence. The survey recorded an estimated 231 100 new HIV infections in 2017.

Though this new HIV infections figure was still very high, the study noted that it was a decline of 44% from an incidence rate of 0.85% reported in 2012. Of concern from the findings of the survey was the high infection levels (7.9%) among the youth aged between 15 and 24. The survey found that HIV prevalence rate was generally higher among females aged 15 to 24 where the number of new infections was three times that of their male counterparts.

Roughly 7.9 million South Africans were living with HIV in 2017, with more than 60% or an estimated 4.4-million people living with HIV on antiretroviral treatment (ART).

The study also found that viral suppression was 87.3% among people living with HIV who were on treatment, with females generally being more likely to be virally suppressed than males among those aged 15 to 64.

Dr Sizulu Moyo of the Human Sciences Research Council’s HIV/Aids, STIs and TB (HAST) research programme, said this suggests that progress was being made in increasing ART coverage.

He, however, said more needs to be done to link those who test HIV positive to care as soon as they are tested in line with the current policy of test and treat.

Although viral suppression is high among those on ART, not everyone who is living with HIV is on treatment and consequently only 62.3% of all people living with HIV irrespective of treatment were found to be virally suppressed.

The study also found that HIV prevalence among people aged 15 to 49 years in SA is 20.6%,  that is 26.3% among females and 14.8% among males.

The study found HIV prevalence peaked at 35 to 39 years of age for females and 45 to 49 years of age for males.

HIV has risen sharply for women aged 60 years and older compared to males, where the figures have remained constant.

Professor Khangelani Zuma, executive director of the HAST Research Programme at the HSRC, said this shows the overall aging profile of people living with HIV, which he said was mainly as a result of the “successful implementation of ART programme, resulting in fewer deaths and therefore (people living with HIV) living longer”.

The top three provinces with the highest HIV prevalence were KwaZulu-Natal, followed by Free State and the Eastern Cape.

The bottom three least affected provinces were Limpopo, Northern Cape and the Western Cape.

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