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Mural in Soweto warning of AIDS

Photo: A2800 epa Kim Ludbrook/ dpa

According to a study, the number of people infected with HIV in South Africa has fallen significantly for the first time in recent years. The study by the South African research agency Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) found that about 12.7 percent of the 62 million South Africans are infected with the HIV virus. This can trigger the immunodeficiency disease AIDS. In a 2017 study, 14 percent of the population was still infected.

HSRC research director Khangelani Zuma said there was no simple explanation for the decline in infections, and the reasons were "complex". South Africa is one of the countries worst affected by the four-decade-long AIDS epidemic.

While the research shows that progress has been made, there are still gaps in tackling the HIV epidemic in South Africa. For example, infection rates are unevenly distributed in the different geographical regions and population groups, with blacks, women and young people particularly affected.

There are also clear geographical differences: In the southwestern province of the Western Cape with the capital Cape Town, only eight percent of people over the age of 15 are affected, while in eastern KwaZulu-Natal with the capital Durban, 22 percent are affected. In addition, the HIV prevalence among women (20 percent) is almost twice as high as among men (12 percent).

Disproportionately affected: Black South Africans

Blacks are more affected (20 percent) than the mixed population group of "Coloureds" (<> percent), whites and Indians as well as other Asians (only about one percent). The most pronounced differences in HIV prevalence by sex were found in younger populations, which requires targeted interventions," said study leader Zuma.

South Africa has more individual HIV cases than any other country and about a third of all cases on the African continent. In recent years, more than 85,000 people have died of AIDS in the country every year. The increasing use of antiretroviral therapy drugs (ART) has radically changed the outlook for HIV/AIDS patients.

In their study, the scientists also highlighted the decline in the use of condoms worldwide, which are considered an effective tool for preventing the spread of AIDS.

In July, the United Nations Programme to Fight AIDS, UNAIDS, spread a hopeful message: By 2030, the immunodeficiency disease could be largely defeated – if the political will and financial resources are raised worldwide.