HIV infections down in SA - but so is condom use

17 July 2018 - 12:55 By Katharine Child
The group where new infections are growing at the highest rate is young men aged 14 to 24.
The group where new infections are growing at the highest rate is young men aged 14 to 24.
Image: 123RF/ktsdesign

The number of new HIV infections in South Africa is dropping‚ but there were still 231‚000 people who contracted HIV in 2017.

The Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) released their fifth national HIV Prevalence‚ Incidence‚ Behaviour and Communication Survey on Tuesday in Pretoria.

Over 33‚000 people were interviewed about their sexual behaviour and beliefs.

Almost 24‚000 had their blood taken‚ anonymously‚ to test for HIV or if they were on ARVs.

The research was done across the country in the same way that a census is conducted‚ in order to represent every region‚ race and economic group.

The group where new infections are growing at the highest rate is young men aged 14 to 24. Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi called this “very worrying”.

But there was some good news‚ too: 87% of those on treatment are virally suppressed and cannot transmit the virus during sex.

When a person takes his or her treatment correctly every day‚ the virus stops replicating‚ meaning they are no longer infectious. This is called viral suppression.

The UN has set a goal for 90% of people living with HIV to be on treatment. Of those‚ 90% should take their treatment well enough to ensure they had viral suppression

South Africa's rate of people with HIV who are no longer infectious is very close to the UN goals.

But not everyone is on treatment. According to HSRC data‚ one in three HIV-positive people in South Africa are not on treatment and can still spread the virus.

The study also showed that number of new infections had dropped by 44% since the last survey in 2012. “This is an extraordinary response‚” said Professor Helen Rees‚ head of the Wits Reproductive HIV and Health Institute‚ at the launch of the study.

Researchers expressed concern‚ however‚ that the data showed that condom usage was decreasing and the number of people having sex before the age of 15 was increasing.

The number of people living with HIV in South Africa is now estimated to be 7.9-million.

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