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Fight against HIV not slowing down

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Minister of Health Joseph Phaahla
Minister of Health Joseph Phaahla
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The Free State has made significant strides in terms of attaining a threshold of HIV/AIDS testing and the provision of treatment in the fight against the pandemic.

This is according to Minster of Health Joseph Phaahla, who delivered a keynote address reflecting on the province’s progress on this matter on World Aids Day, observed on Thursday (01/12). The province’s event was held at the Dr Petrus Molemela Stadium in Bloemfontein.

“Equalise and integrate to end AIDS” is this year’s theme, reflecting the gravity of the pandemic’s impact on marginalised communities.

Phaahla said the Free State has already surpassed the 94% threshold. Credit has been given to private-public partnership for these strides made.

He said as of 2021, 85% of people living with HIV knew their status and 88% of them were receiving treatment. He said 92% of people living with the virus and who were on treatment had the virus under control.

“The overall population served by the public and private sectors in the province is now at 94%. People who are living with HIV, who know their status, is at 86% and are on antiretroviral treatment; and 92% of those who are on treatment are virally suppressed,” he said.

According to Phaahla, this progress was key in bolstering the country’s fight in eliminating AIDS as a global health threat by 2030, as set by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS) - the advocate for accelerated, comprehensive and coordinated global action on the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

However, Phaahla pointed out that the Xhariep and Lejweleputswa districts in the Free State’s results demonstrate that people with HIV and on treatment fare poorly when the target is focused on viral suppression.

“We must urgently intervene to create a balance among the targets in order to achieve zero new infections by 2030. This includes ensuring that services are brought closer to the people and that our health facilities are adequately resourced with medicine and related necessities,” said Phaahla.

He said despite the fact that the country’s HIV prevalence had remained stable at 13,5% over the last five years, the number of people living with HIV continues to rise every year as the country’s population grows. The increase is blamed on new infections due to unprotected sexual behaviour.

Phaahla revealed that the Free State still has high prevalence.

“As seen in 2021, the Free State is among the provinces with the highest HIV prevalence rate, at 14,8%; with KwaZulu-Natal at 18,3% and Mpumalanga at 15,9%,” he said.

The Western Cape had the lowest at 8,3%, followed by the Northern Cape at 10%.

“These new HIV infections occur in young people aged between 15 and 24 years. According to research done through the Thembisa 4.3 model, in 2019 there were roughly 14 000 new infections in young males and 55 000 in young women.

“According to research, the majority of our burden falls on black Africans, with crucial and vulnerable populations being disproportionately excluded from accessing health care. In light of these numbers, we need to keep working together across all sectors to raise awareness and improve our messages about prevention and sticking to treatment.”

Phaahla said in efforts of fighting the new infection rate, the South African National AIDS Council (SANAC) launched the South African National Youth HIV Prevention Strategy in June, as a three-year youth HIV prevention campaign. This strategy is designed to target young people, particularly adolescent girls, who are most vulnerable to new infections.

“ . . .as of 2021, 85% of people living with HIV knew their status and 88% of them were receiving treatment.”

– Joseph Phaahla

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