The 600 new HIV infections in South Africa every day should constitute a health emergency.
This is according to the Treatment Action Campaign, commenting on the latest results from the fifth South African national HIV prevalence, incidence, behaviour and communication survey conducted by the Health Science Research Council.
The survey results were released on Tuesday.
“While the politicians celebrate, we cannot afford to do so while the epidemic is still raging in our communities and the healthcare systems that are supposed to help us are falling apart. You don’t celebrate while your house is still burning,” Anele Yawa, the TAC’s general secretary said.
The survey was conducted on households in South Africa between January and December 2017.
More than 33 000 people were involved; 24 000 of whom agreed to be tested for HIV. The council reported a 44% decline in the incidence rate, with 231 100 new HIV infections reported in 2017.
Females aged between 15-24 years old were the population group most affected, the survey said, “where the number of new infections was three times higher than their male counterparts”.
Speaking at the survey launch in Pretoria, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said that the reason why there was a decline in new HIV infections was because of the large number of people who were on ARVs and were virally suppressed.
“Our plans are to increase the number of people on ARVs to more than six million by the end of 2020,” Motsoaledi said.
The TAC maintained that in order for South Africa to bring down the infection rate, the priority should be for everyone to know their HIV status and have access to treatment.
“When someone is stable on antiretroviral therapy and the virus is suppressed in their body, they are no longer infectious. In this way, getting more people on to treatment is actually one of the most effective ways of preventing new HIV infections,” Yawa said.
He also pointed out that the ailing healthcare system in the country needed to be fixed.
“To make all of this possible, however, we will have to fix our broken and corrupted provincial healthcare systems and turn our clinics into places everyone is comfortable visiting and where only high quality treatment and care is provided,” Yawa said.
A key campaign run by the TAC is to monitor the HIV and tuberculosis response in South Africa, and Yawa said that its members worked closely with poor people who live with HIV and rely on the public health system for treatment and care, “so they are the first who notice when it is not working”.
UNAids set a target, to hit by 2020, for 90% of people living with HIV to know their status, 90% of people who know their status to be on antiretroviral therapy and 90% of people living with HIV on ART viral suppression.
With the 90-90-90 target in place, South Africa was hoping to reach at least one of those targets.
“The study found that 85% of people living with HIV aged 15 to 64 year olds have tested for HIV and know their HIV positive status, 71% of this sub-group are on ART and 86% of the group on ART are virally suppressed,” the council said.
“If the government delivers on its promise of an ambitious new HIV testing campaign then it is likely that we will reach the first 90 by 2020.
"However, given the widespread crisis in our public healthcare system it will be very hard to ensure that 90% of people diagnosed with HIV be receiving sustained antiretroviral therapy by 2020 as required by the second 90.
"At our current trajectory we will fail the second 90,” Yawa said.