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On The Eve Of World Aids Day South Africa Struggles With New Cases

posted 29 Nov 2013, 08:17 by Mpelembe   [ updated 29 Nov 2013, 08:18 ]

South African National AIDS Council (SANAC) says the fight against new cases is a losing battle, and despite antiretroviral treatment, new infections remain high.

GARANKUWA, SOUTH AFRICA  (REUTERS) -  With about six million people infected with the HIV virus - more than 10 percent of the country's population - South Africa carries the world's heaviest HIV/AIDS caseload. But it also has one of the world's largest treatment programmes.

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Ahead of World Aids Day on Sunday (November 1) the head of South African National AIDS Council (SANAC), the highest body that advises the government on all HIV and tuberculosis related policies, programmes and interventions, says that much more needs to be done to prevent new infections.

Dr Fareed Addullah told Reuters the country grapples with social issues like poverty and alcohol abuse which are major factors in the continues spread of the disease.

"We have many kind of causes of such a high rate of HIV and these have to do with poverty, they have to do with migrant labour system, they have to do with extremes of gender inequality and gender based violence that we have in this country. We also have lots of alcohol use and abuse, and we have a breakdown of families. So in a place like ours which struggled under colonialism and apartheid for 300 years, you introduce such a powerful virus its spreads a lot," he said.

According to SANAC gender violence has also been a major cause of spreading the disease, as women in townships are raped because of their sexual orientation. Fareed said that the challenge in curbing new infections is to change people's behaviour.

"When it comes to behaviour change we really need to do much more, and there's been a lot of work done on media, communications, a lot of work in communities, thousands of NGO's are doing programs but we are not really having the impact that we should be having and we need to do much more. So we a long road to travel still when it comes to preventing new infections," Fareed added.

Human Rights Watch has recently released a video which explores the work of the award-winning South African photographer and activist Zanele Muholi to mark a campaign against gender violence.

The video is dedicated to the memory of 26-year old Duduzile Zozo, a lesbian who was brutally raped and murdered in June, in Thokoza, outside Johannesburg to highlight the plight of lesbians living in townships.

This year, the government has bolstered its massive HIV testing programme to try to reach zero infections and to end discrimination against HIV/Aids.

South Africa has made strides in addressing HIV and Aids in the country, introducing a single dose antiretroviral (ARV) pill, which reduces the need for HIV positive patients to take multiple pills each day, considered expensive and unsustainable.

The single dose anti-AIDs drug , known as Atroiza is a three-in-one combination ARV, aimed at simplifying the treatment regime for people living with the HIV virus in the country. It is also cheaper and expected to cost the government $10 a patient per month, down from $43.

Over two million people are receiving ARV treatment in South Africa. But according to the Treatment Action Campaign the rate of new infections remain high at around 1,000 new infections per day.

Although HIV treatment now is available at public facilities, this was not the case a few years ago, an AIDS activist says.

"What you now see is that the epidemic instead of continuing to go up its plateauing, and the two reasons there is plateauing, the one reason is people like myself - I'm HIV, I have HIV but there's no HIV in my viral load in my blood or in my semen, so all the people on treatment are not passing on the virus, so that's reduced the amount of virus in the community. So that's a major major victory and on the other hand the tragic part is that we still have about 200,000 deaths of AIDS a year, which we didn't need to have had if we started earlier," said Zackie Achmat, co-founder of the Treatment Action Campaign who took the fight for affordable and accessible antiretroviral drugs to governments and big pharmaceuticals.

21 Icons South Africa, a television series that celebrates iconic South Africans who have inspired people around the world with exceptional achievements is dedicating an episode to Achmat ahead of World Aids Day.

Achmat says new technology will help in the fight against HIV and AIDS.

"I'm fairly confident that the epidemic is coming under control globally, and I also believe that the advances in medicine through nanotechnology and so on is putting up to a road to a cure and I'm not so sure about the vaccine still but definitely there's serious possibilities for a cure," he told Reuters.

The number of South Africans receiving free ARV treatment had increased from 923,000 to 2.1-million people, while the number of facilities offering ARV drugs had climbed from 490 to 3540 countrywide.

This year South Africa will again commemorate World Aids Day under the global theme of "Zero New HIV infection, Zero Discrimination, and Zero Aids related deaths". The theme, announced in 2011, will continue until 2015.