Current Situation in South Africa
Africa is the continent worst affected by HIV, and South Africa has the highest population of people living with the virus globally. In 2011, there were an estimated 5.6 million sufferers -- over 10% of the population (in the UK 0.1% of people are living with HIV)1.
The number of adults living with HIV in South Africa increased most dramatically between 1990 and 2000, but from 1998 onwards the number of people becoming newly infected began to fall each year. This fall can be accredited to a number of factors including better education about the virus, its effects and how to avoid becoming infected. Increasing numbers of people are using condoms, HIV and AIDS campaigns have multiplied and increased in their scope and in 2010 the government introduced guidelines concerning PMTCT (Prevention of mother-to-child transmission) that were approved by the World Health Organisation.
Unfortunately, statistics show that one in seven women with HIV in South Africa could have been spared from infection had they not been subjected to sexual violence. No matter how effective any campaign is or how careful women are, they will not be able to protect themselves as long as sexual violence and abuse remain a factor in South Africa.
HIV and AIDS not only affect those who suffer from the virus but also those around them. In 2012, it was estimated that there were 2.5 million children orphaned as a result of HIV2. Due to the prevalence of HIV in the past 30 years, young adults have been most affected. This means that many children in South Africa are left orphaned or with only one parent. These children have been found to be considerably more likely to suffer from mental health issues like depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) when compared with other children, and these mental health problems are shown as likely to increase over time3.
Beside the effects on children, the effects of HIV and AIDS also tend to add a greater strain on remaining family members. It is often the case that grandparents are required to bring up orphaned children though without the incomes of those who have died. Treatments administered to allow people living with HIV to continue living a normal life have increased across South Africa, but largely due to the social stigma associated with HIV, there are still many people who are not aware that they carry the virus until it is too late to treat effectively4.
The way forward for South Africa
Improvements are continually being made throughout South Africa, though the effects of initiatives have not been felt as rapidly as hoped. With continued pressure from activists, increased funding, and increased solidarity between South Africans, their government and the global society, it is hoped that HIV and AIDS can be eradicated entirely. Until that is the case, awareness needs to increase further and there needs to be better support provided for those directly and indirectly affected by the virus, as well as a greater focus on the improvement of medical facilities and resources.
1. Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS). (2012) UNAIDS Report on the global AIDS epidemic [online]. Available from: http://www.tinyurl.com/mmoattu [Accessed 5 December 2014]
2. UNICEF. (2013) Children and AIDS: Sixth stocktaking report [online]. Available from: http://www.unicef.org/publications/files/Children_and_AIDS_Sixth_Stocktaking_Report_EN.pdf [Accessed 5 December 2014]
3. Cluver, L., Orkin, M., Gardner, F., et al. (2012) Persisting mental health problems among AIDS-orphaned children in South Africa. The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 53 (4): 363-370
4. Jewkes, R. (2006) Beyond stigma: social responses to HIV in South Africa. The Lancet, 368: 430-431