HIV numbers up by almost 20% – but it ‘could be good news’

2013-06-20 08:49

An estimated 6.4 million South Africans were living with HIV last year – an increase of about 20% compared with 2008 when 5.4 million people did so.

While these figures seemingly paint a grim picture of South Africa’s efforts in fighting HIV and Aids, Dr Olive Shisana, chief executive officer of the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), said this could be good news.

She explained: “If the number of people who are HIV positive increases, it means that there is something we are doing well because people are living longer.”

“When one analyses the data, you realise that HIV prevalence is growing among adults which means those are people who were infected years ago. They have probably started taking antiretroviral treatment and are therefore living longer,” she said.

The HSRC conducts the national HIV household survey every four years to measure HIV prevalence (the total number of HIV positive people) and HIV incidence (the number of new HIV infections) in the country.

These figures are contained in the preliminary findings of the survey, which were released at the South African Aids conference in Durban last night.

The findings also show that women continue to bear the brunt of HIV, especially those between the ages of 30 and 39 years.

Said Dr Thomas Rehle of the HSRC: “A third of all people on antiretroviral treatment in South Africa are between the age of 30 to 39 years, the majority of who are women. This explains the HIV prevalence is very high in this group – they are testing and if positive starting with treatment and living longer,” he said.

Although the national HIV household survey measures both HIV incidence and prevalence, the incidence results were not presented at the Aids conference.

Shisana said researchers have to still analyse the data. “We should release that data in the next six weeks.”

More key findings of the 2012 survey:

» National HIV prevalence is at 12.3%, up from 10.6% in 2008

» HIV prevalence among females is at 23.3%, compared with 13.3% in males

» KwaZulu-Natal has the highest HIV prevalence at 27.6%, followed by the Eastern Cape at 26%

» HIV prevalence among 15 to 24-year-olds decreased to 7.3%, from 8.7% in 2008

» About 2 million people are taking ARVs – 1.4 million women and 605 670 men

» The headline of this story was updated after first published to make a clear distinction between the HIV rate (the number of people with HIV as a percentage of the population), which increased by 16% – to 12.3% – and the number of people with HIV, which increased by 19%.

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