HIV/AIDS in South Africa

HIV/AIDS is perceived to be more prevalent in South Africa than anywhere else worldwide. About 12% of the South African population is affected by HIV/AIDS; excluding children, that percentage rises to 18%. Additionally, the neighboring countries of South Africa are comparably affected, making them among the top infected nations of the world.

HIV-AIDS South Africa Prevalence

AIDS in South Africa is more prevalent than anywhere else in the word.

South Africa’s battle against AIDS

For almost a decade, the number of South Africans receiving antiretroviral (ARV) treatment has been rising rapidly. Additionally, new infections among adolescents have been steadily decreasing. But in spite of the progress, the damage caused by HIV/AIDS remains substantial. Older age groups continue to develop new infections, perpetuating the high percentage of HIV/AIDS deaths.

Of all demographic groups, female adults who are under 40 years of age are most affected by HIV/AIDS. About 80% of 20 to 24 year old South Africans with HIV/AIDS are women. Only about 33% of 25 to 29 year old South Africans with HIV/AIDS are men. Within just three years, the HIV/AIDS infection number of older adolescents dwindled by 50%. While prevalence in those who are older than 20 have increased, the prevalence in South Africans younger than 20 years old have decreased. Condoms are more widely used among younger individuals, and are least used among more mature people. Most men and women under the age of 25 use condoms. A little over half of the population between the ages 25 and 49 also claim to do so.

Despite the numbers, older adults are among the most educated about HIV/AIDS, with young adults slightly lagging behind. South Africans who are over 50 years of age are among the least educated about HIV/AIDS. Only about one third are aware of the truth.

Amongst pregnant women, the highest HIV-positive population is in KwaZulu-Natal at 37%.

The Western Cape, Northern Cape, and Limpopo have the lowest HIV-positive population at 13%, 16%, and 18% respectively. In 2006, the remaining South African provinces each totaled in at a minimum of 26% of HIV-positive pregnant women in prenatal clinics. More recent studies show that the number of infected pregnant women may be plateauing at around 30%. This is possibly due to a decrease in younger pregnant women with HIV.

Aside from the HIV-infected pregnant population, Gauteng  and KwaZulu-Natal encompass 55% of the grand total of infected South Africans. Even with the increase in prevalence all throughout South Africa between 2005 to 2008, KwaZulu-Natal continues to have the highest rate of infection. Amongst the sexually active population in South Africa, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal have the highest HIV/AIDS prevalence. Western Cape and Northern Cape have the lowest.


A 2008 study showed that there was a 13.6% infection rate among Africans, 1.7% among Coloreds, 0.3% among Indians, and 0.3% among Whites.

Economic impact

A study conducted in 2003 compared a no- HIV/AIDS case with an HIV/AIDS case. It was executed in order to predict yearly growth rates from 2002 to 2015. The study demonstrated that real GDP growth would be lower within the HIV/AIDS scenario by 0.6 %. The per-capita GDP growth, however, was higher by 0.9 %. Increasing populations and labor forces would respectively grow to be 1.5 and 1.2 % less, as would the rate of unemployment at 0.9 % less.

The cost of HIV/AIDS includes expenses due to increased absenteeism, compromised productivity, more turnovers, in addition to healthcare costs. In 2002, a major company located in South Africa estimated HIV/AIDS-related expenses to consist of 4% of the total salaries within the region. Another major company conducted a study in 2000 and concluded that amongst the workforce in the local community, 15% tested HIV-positive. Amongst those who were infected, 11% had were suffering from AIDS as well.

Awareness campaigns

South Africa is home to four central HIV/AIDS campaigns for raising awareness: Khomanani, LoveLife, Soul City, and Soul Buddyz. The more conventional of the four are Khomanani and LoveLife. Soul Buddyz and Soul City instead utilize popular forms of media to spread information on HIV/AIDS. Both are television series; Soul Buddyz and Soul City target younger and older audiences respectively and have proved to be the most effective campaigns.

Despite the efforts to raise awareness, the questionable quality of the country’s manufactured condoms hindered the process. In 2007, over 20 million condoms that were manufactured locally, were recalled because they were defective. In 2012, other contraceptive devices distributed at events failed simple tests.

Co-infection: Tuberculosis

In 2007, a prediction was made that one in three infected with HIV will develop tuberculosis (TB). In 2002, the government declared mandatory cross-checking patients diagnosed with Tuberculosis (TB) for HIV infection. While not all TB patients have undergone protocol, in 2006, an HIV test was done for 40% of TB patients within South Africa, and TB prevention has converged with HIV/AIDS prevention. TB or other similar illnesses are among the highest causes of AIDS-related deaths. To counter this, South Africa created an “HIV & AIDS and STI (Sexually Transmitted Infection) Strategic Plan.”

The history of HIV and AIDS history within South Africa

First case in AIDS of South Africa was first diagnosed in 1983 when two patients appeared to carry the disease. The first AIDS-related death was recorded in 1983. Just three years later, 46 more cases of AIDS  were diagnosed. AIDS was determined to be much more prevalent amongst the homosexual population before 1990. By 1990, AIDS was not a familiar disease to South Africans, as under 1% of the population had the disease. In 1996, the percentage of those infected rose to 3%, and just four years later in 1999, the numbers jumped to 10%. By 1995, AIDS infection began to reach a pandemic level.

1985: South Africa’s 1st  Advisory Group for AIDS was established by the government.

1990: 1st national antenatal survey revealed that 0.8% of pregnant women were infected with HIV. Around 5.6 South Africans were shown to be living with HIV. Annual antenatal surveys continued to be conducted each year.

1993: HIV prevalence in pregnant women rose to 4.3%. The number of HIV infections recorded rose by 60% within two years. The numbers were predicted to double.

1995: A grant of R14.27 million was contracted by The Department of Health to create to Sarafina’s, a musical sequel to target AIDS awareness toward younger people. The project led to much controversy eventually causing the contract to be nullified. The Seventh International Conference for People Living with HIV and AIDS was also held this year.

1996: South Africa’s soccer team showed their support for  the Campaign raising AIDS Awareness at the African Nations Cup by wearing red ribbons.

    The Eleventh International Conference for People Living with HIV and AIDS featured South Africa’s health minister who commented on the great difficulty of treatment for those with HIV living in poorer nations.

1997: The Health Department endorsed the controversial drug for AIDS: Virodene, by arguing that currently available medications are not accessible to most infected patients. The clinical trials done to test Virodene had previously been investigated by parliament.

1999: The  campaign preventing HIV called LoveLife was founded.

2000: A 5-year plan conducted by Department of Health to fight against STIs, AIDS, and HIV. In order to supervise the process, an AIDS Council on the National level (SANAC) was established.

2001: The government of South Africa fought with pharmaceutical companies all over the country in order to allow for less expensive and locally-produced anti-retrovirals.

    Right to Care, a NGO committed to treatment and prevention of HIV and other associated illnesses, was founded. With funding by ISAOD’s PEPFAR, Right to Care rapidly expanded and treated over 125, thousand patients tested positive for HIV within ten years.

2002: In response to the Treatment Action Campaign and others, transmission prevention drugs became available to pregnant women by order of the High Court.

AIDS Denialism

2000: Thabo Mbeki, then President of South Africa, argued that while HIV is a cause of AIDS, it is not the only cause. He believed that accepting a wide variety of causes may lead to a more thorough treatment response.

2001: A panel of government-appointed scientists reported that alternative treatments were an option for HIV/AIDS. The government of South Africa refused to change its policies regarding the relationship between HIV and AIDS unless alternative scientific proof was presented.

2003: The Ministry of Health refused to provide treatment for HIV-infected individuals despite help from international drug companies. In November, plans to make anti-retroviral treatment available readily and publicly publicly was approved. Prior to this, those with HIV could only receive treatments for infections, but not HIV itself with anti-retrovirals, in the confines of the public sector health system.

2006: Improving HIV/AIDS treatments was hindered by many government officials, including Mbeki. The health minister at the time, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, suggested that eating food such as olive oil, lemon, and garlic would cure the disease. She was called for removal, but stayed in office until Mbeki was removed.

2007: Tshabalala-Msimang  and Mbeki dismissed Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, the Deputy Health minister, a figure well-respected by medical staff and AIDS prevention activists. She was dismissed due to corruption. However, it was popularly believed that her removal was due to her views on the relationship between AIDS and HIV.

2009: Jacob Zuma won presidency of South Africa and ceased the political culture of denialism.

2013: The US announced that they would halve the support given to South Africa by 2017 because of issues regarding its own economic state.

Media’s Role

The media in South Africa took a very aggressive stance toward Mbeki, the president, and Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, the Health Minister. The press made a point to highlight and attack the denialistic viewpoints of Mbeki and Tshabalala-Msimang. Since the end of Mbeki’s presidential term, the news media has become less forceful. Once a new system of AIDS treatment rose with Jacob Zuma, HIV-related news required less coverage. However, the number of health journalists has subsided with the rise of this new era.