Changing the Battle Against AIDS in South Africa

hiv_sa_150Yesterday on World AIDS Day, South Africa was in the news quite a bit. The executive director of UNAIDS was in Pretoria for the commemoration and along with South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma, called for greater HIV prevention measures. South Africa has the largest population of person’s living with HIV-nearly 6 million people. Globally, women are disproportionally affected by HIV and AIDS as the fastest rising group contracting the virus. In South Africa, women account for approximately 62% of all persons over age 15 living with HIV.

South Africa has a sad history of HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment. Despite relentless calls by Nelson Mandela’s 46664 organization for comprehensive government programs, South Africa under the presidency of Thabo Mbeki was a tragic wasteland of an epidemic. At one point, Mbeki promoted a policy of natural herbs for treatment, continuously under-funded anti-retroviral therapy (ART) and condom disbursement programs and committed many other policy failures that many blame for not only doing little to lower infection rates but in fact contributing to an increased infection rate.

Thus far, the Zuma presidency has been markedly different. Yesterday the administration announced increased access for vulnerable populations, including “all HIV-positive children under the age of one would be eligible for treatment,” more pregnant women will receive ART, and more person’s dual diagnosed with tuberculosis will also receive ART. Further, Zuma committed the government to “ensuring that all health facilities in the country are equipped to offer HIV counselling, testing and treatment” rather than only those approved as ART dispersal centers.