A decade of hope and ARVs

2015-11-30 17:00
December 1 marks World Aids Day. UNAids designated the theme Getting to Zero for annual commemoration events and public awareness campaigns from 2011 to 2015 
PHOTO: Mary-Ann Palmer

December 1 marks World Aids Day. UNAids designated the theme Getting to Zero for annual commemoration events and public awareness campaigns from 2011 to 2015 PHOTO: Mary-Ann Palmer

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Experts working in the field of HIV and Aids say Aids-related deaths have decreased over the past decade, with a noticeable difference over the past five years.

Estimates released by the Actuarial Society of SA in 2011 suggest that Aids-related deaths decreased from 257 000 in 2005 to 194 000 in 2010. By 2013, the figure stood at 160 000.

Though these statistics are estimates and not a completely reliable reflection, Professor Glenda Gray, president of the Medical Research Council, and Professor Khangelani Zuma, executive director and head of the biostatistics research methodology and data centre at the Human Sciences Research Council, believe they are credible.

Gray said the challenge with knowing the exact number of Aids-related deaths was that HIV was often not reported as the cause of death by doctors.

“A person may die as a result of tuberculosis or any illness, but that illness could have been triggered by a weakened immune system as a result of HIV infection. Due to confidentiality and other factors, a doctor may not write that the person died of Aids-related illnesses,” she explained.

Zuma agreed, adding that different models were used to arrive at Aids-related-death estimates.

“Stats SA numbers are quite small relative to the total deaths recorded in the country due to the poor recording of HIV and Aids as the cause of death. However, UN agency UNAids estimates clearly show a very high drop year on year of the percentage of Aids deaths, [by] as high as 27% from 2012 to 2013,” he said.

Stats SA figures suggest that 19 146 people died of Aids-related illnesses in 2012 and 23 203 in 2013.

UNAids estimated that there were 220 000 Aids deaths in South Africa in 2012 and 160 000 in 2013.

Zuma explained that although the figures were far apart, “they coincide very well with the observed increase in the numbers of people living with HIV from ages 30 and above”.

Zuma and Gray said that although the figures might look confusing, what was clear was that Aids-related deaths had definitely decreased in South Africa.

Gray attributed this decrease to the wide availability of antiretroviral (ARV) treatment.

She said: “South Africa managed to raise life expectancy by five years in a few years because
of ARVs.

“Increasing years of life by such a great figure is something that [normally] takes countries decades, but we did it [in a few years].

“This shows that the disease, which was killing many people, is now being managed properly and, to some extent, is being controlled through treatment,” she said.

Zuma echoed the same sentiments, saying many lives had been saved by ARVs over the past decade.

But he said the country must not be complacent because “in 2014, 68% of deaths were averted mostly by wide access to ARVs, meaning that there are still deaths [related to] HIV and Aids”.

South Africa started rolling out ARV treatment to the general public in April 2004.

Today, more than 3 million people are accessing the life-saving drugs.

Read more on:    arv  |  hiv aids

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