HIV/AIDS in South Africa

Introduction

HIV/AIDS is a significant health concern for many countries all over the world. The disease has had a devastating effect on the African continent with Sub-Saharan Africa accounting for almost 70% of all HIV/AIDS infections in the world. South Africa is one of the countries that have been severely impacted by the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

The prevalence of this disease in the country has resulted in numerous detrimental health, social, and economic outcomes. This paper will set out to discuss the case of HIV/AIDS in South Africa with focus on the prevalence of the disease and the measures that the South African government has taken to try combating the disease.

Prevalence

South Africa is among the list of countries that are worst affected by the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Johnson (2008) reveals that South Africa has the highest population of HIV-positive people in the world making HIV/AIDS a major issue for the government and society.

In the year 2011, it was estimated that 5.6 million South Africans were suffering from HIV/AIDS. Avert Organization (2013) reports that in 2011, the disease resulted in the deaths 270,190 people making it one of the leading causes of death in South Africa.

While HIV/AIDS is transmitted through various means, Loggerenberg et al. (2012) reveal that the infection in South Africa is predominantly spread via heterosexual sex with young women being the country’s most vulnerable population. Some segments of the population have continued to experience a rise in the prevalence of HIV in spite of the increased education and awareness of HIV/AIDS.

Research by Loggerenberg, et al. (2012) demonstrated that women who had better formal education were more likely to employ HIV/AIDS prevention measures such as condom use in their sexual encounters.

Impacts of HIV/AIDS

The mortality rate in South Africa has suffered from a dramatic reduction because of the HIV/AIDS endemic. Research indicates that HIV/AIDS has led to a decrease in life expectancy in the heavily affected sub-Saharan African countries by more than 20 years.

As a constituent of the heavily affected countries, South Africa has been significantly affected and the nation has experienced a sharp increase in the number of annual deaths attributed to HIV/AIDS (Avert Organization, 2013).

The economic well being of the country has been negatively affected by the prevalence of HIV/AIDS. The disease has also contributed to the drop in per capita growth in the country (Meintjes et al., 2010). The HIV/AIDS epidemic affects the economic well being of the country in a number of unique ways.

To begin with, the disease decreases the productivity of an individual or leads to his early death; therefore depriving the country of the valuable labor force. HIV/AIDS also has a negative economic impact since it imposes costly expenses related to the disease treatment on households and the government.

Even with the high rate of subsidization by the South African government for anti-retroviral drugs, individuals are still required to contribute to their treatment regimens. Another way in which HIV/AIDS has an economic impact is by reducing the economic opportunities of the infected members of the society.

People living with HIV/AIDS are often stigmatized by other members of society making it hard for them to gain meaningful employment (Gilbert & Walker, 2010).

The AIDS-related adult mortality in South Africa has contributed to an increase in the number of orphans in the country. Meintjes et al. (2010) reveal that because of the loss of parents, South Africa has experienced prevalence in the number of “child-headed households”.

This assertion is corroborated by the Avert Organization (2013) which highlights that the HIV/AIDS epidemic in South Africa has had devastating effects on children who have experienced emotional and financial difficulties due to the loss of one or both parents.

Fighting HIV/AIDS in South Africa

The South African government has been strong on AIDS policy development and as far back as in 1994, the newly elected African National Congress became the first African government to formulate a National AIDS Plan that emphasized “prevention, comprehensiveness, and a multi-sector and multi-stakeholder approach to the development and implementation of HIV/AIDS programmes” (Johnson, 2008, p. 499).

Owing to the severity of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in the country, South Africa has engaged in intensive action to combat the disease. Johnson (2008) reveals that the South African government has increased its domestic public spending on efforts to combat AIDS with households.

In line with the South African government’s commitment to fighting the disease, significant finances have been allocated to HIV/AIDS efforts.

Between 2000 and 2006, the country demonstrated a dramatic increase in funding with reports revealing that the total government HIV/AIDS allocations increased from R250 million to R3.5 billion within this period (Johnson, 2008). Government funding was expected to rise to R6.5 billion by 2010 making South African HIV/AIDS program the best funded in Africa.

Treatment Efforts

While there is no cure for HIV/AIDS, scientists have come up with drugs that can be used to treat the disease and improve the quality of life for the infected person. These drugs are known as antiretroviral drugs and they manage the symptoms of HIV by reducing the level of virus in a person’s body (Avert Organization, 2013). The drugs also prevent HIV infection by interfering with the reproduction of the human immunodeficiency virus.

The South African government has tried to increase the level of access to anti-retroviral treatment for the people in the country living with HIV/AIDS. A report by the World Health Organization revealed that the number of people receiving this treatment in 2006 was approximately 325,000 out of a possible 975,000 who were in need of the treatment (Johnson, 2008).

As of February 2008, the government had increased the number of people receiving anti-retroviral treatment up to 418,00 ensuring that more South Africans received appropriate care for their condition. This has led to better health outcomes for the people infected with HIV in South Africa.

Setbacks in the Fight against HIV/AIDS

In spite of the strong commitment by the South African government to respond to the AIDS pandemic, politics have had a negative effect on policy development. The government’s response to AIDS has been hampered by politicization, which has seen political leaders imposing decisions instead of facilitating cooperation among society members to achieve positive goals (Johnson, 2008).

For example, the Mbeki administration engaged in public AIDS denial and misappropriated funding for the disease. The then South African President, Thabo Mbeki, advanced the notion that the AIDS pandemic in Africa was a disease of poverty. Linking poverty with AIDS had negative implications domestically since it discounted the proposed behavioral change interventions aimed at combating HIV/AIDS (Johnson, 2008).

A major issue affecting people suffering from HIV/AIDS in South Africa is a stigma. In the South African context, stigma is highly significant, and it has dire effects on the well-being of people living with the disease. Gilbert and Walker (2010) reveal that stigma has an effect on the epidemic and it compromises the well-being of the infected people since it can lead to discrimination.

HIV/AIDS victims often suffer from loss of employment, estrangement from family and society, and increased risk of physical violence. Stigma also contributes to the increase in new HIV cases since it deters people from being tested since they do not want to acknowledge their HIV-positive status (Gilbert & Walker, 2010).

Conclusion

This paper set out to discuss the case of HIV/AID in South Africa. It began by stating that South Africa has the highest number of people living with HIV/AIDS in the African continent. It proceeded to highlight the prevalence of the disease in the country and the negative impacts of HIV/AIDS. The paper then delved into the efforts taken by the government to fight this disease.

It noted that the South African government has dedicated significant amounts of money to tackle the AIDS problem and this has led to some positive results. The paper has taken care to highlight the high politicization of HIV/AIDS in South Africa. It has noted that while this politicization has led to some positive outcomes such as increased funding and government commitment to tackling HIV/AIDS, it has also deterred progress in the fight against the disease.

The paper suggests that HIV/AIDS prevalence in South Africa is associated with low education levels and stigmatization. Tackling these issues should, therefore, be a key objective of the government to reduce the occurrence of HIV/AIDS in the country.

References

Avert Organization (2013). HIV and AIDS in South Africa. Web.

Gilbert, L., & Walker, L. (2010). Stigma as experienced by patients in an HIV/AIDS clinic in Johannesburg, South Africa. Health and Social Care in the Community, 18(2), 139–146.

Johnson, K. (2008). Between self-help and dependence: donor funding and the fight against hiv/aids in South Africa. Africa 78(4), 496-517.

Loggerenberg, F., Dieter, A.L., Sobieszczyk, L., Grobler, K.M. (2012) HIV Prevention in High-Risk Women in South Africa: Condom Use and the Need for Change. PLoS One, 7(2), 1-7.

Meintjes, H., Hall, K., Marera, D., & Boulle, A. (2010). Orphans of the AIDS epidemic? The extent, nature, and circumstances of child-headed households in South Africa. AIDS Care, 22(1), 40-49.