Heartening HIV/Aids statistics, holding up the promise that the world and particularly sub-Saharan Africa may be turning the corner against the disease, emerged in a UNAids report this week.
Almost overshadowed by the imminent Cop17 climate change conference in Durban, and by a spat involving DA leader Helen Zille who has argued criminal prosecution for reckless sex adventurers, marked reductions in the HIV/Aids toll are most welcome.
The Mbeki administration’s slow, reluctant start against the epidemic is still unexplained. Now that the Zuma government is trying to catch up, 95 percent of pregnant, HIV-positive mothers are using with great success antiretrovirals to shield their babies from infection.
HIV infections decreased by 22 percent between 2001 and 2009. Aids deaths dropped by 21 percent between 2001 and last year.
UNaids said the country was reaping the benefits of resources being poured into the campaign, strong political commitment, decentralised service delivery, and empowerment of nurses to administer the necessary treatment.
With this clear evidence of the prophylactic effect of once-spurned antiretrovirals, it should act as a spur to the government and civil society to intensify efforts further still. Behavioural changes are essential, and should be propagated without rest.
KwaZulu-Natal’s 2012-2016 HIV/Aids strategy, unveiled yesterday, emphasised the need to change sexual behaviour. It is thus welcome. There should be no let-up in education campaigns.
The latest statistical improvements are encouraging, but the reality is that 5.6 million South Africans have HIV. We are seeing progress at last, but the impact on families and the economy remains enormous. Orphan-headed families are common nowadays, for instance, and the question of their futures remains very uncertain.