6 February 2017

South Africa: National Development Plan to Curb New HIV Infections

Pretoria — South Africa is hard at work to meet its target of zero new HIV infections by the year 2030.

Currently, about seven million people are living with HIV and Aids in South Africa and 50% of them are receiving antiretroviral (ARV) treatment.

The target of no new infections by 2030 is set in the National Development Plan (NDP) and is one that the health sector, in partnership with various stakeholders and South Africans at large, is pushing to achieve before the set time.

South Africa recently adopted the "test and treat" protocol, where anyone who gets a positive diagnosis can start ARV treatment. This is a significant step for the country, as it aims to increase life expectancy to at least 70 years by 2030.

The NDP, South Africa's development blueprint, also recommends that provision be made for high-risk HIV-negative people - something that government has since got off the ground.

Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, in his capacity as the South African National Aids Council (SANAC) chairperson, last year announced that government would facilitate the provision of the pre-exposure pill to sex works in South Africa. Already there are about 400 who are enrolled to get the pill. Men who have sex with other men will also be given the pill.

Individuals who fall in the vulnerable groups (sex workers, gay people and transgender people) can take the pill once a day to reduce their risk of getting infected with HIV.

The pill is pharmaceutically registered and is available over the counter at leading pharmacies across the country.

However, the NDP notes that even if there are no new infections of HIV, there will still be a sizeable number of HIV-positive people requiring treatment, presenting a continuous challenge for the tuberculosis infection rate and the risk of drug-resistant HIV strains developing.

Despite the gains made, the epidemic and its implications for public policy are likely to persist for at least another generation, possibly two.

In 2015, an estimated 266 000 South Africans became infected with HIV. Each week, there are about 2 000 new HIV infections in adolescent girls and young women aged 15 to 24 years.

Curbing new infections

The health sector has also managed to reduce the number of people dying from Aids.

Since 2009, the country's prevention of mother to child (PMTC) infection programme has been one of the flagship programmes in government's efforts to curb the spread of HIV, particular among the vulnerable of society -- women and children.

Statistics show that HIV prevalence among new born babies fell from 8.5% in 2008 to below 2.4% in 2015. As a result, more than 100 000 babies were protected from HIV infection.

Breaking new ground

South Africa is making strides, having seen the launch of the ground breaking HIV vaccine trial in November 2016.

The HIV vaccine clinical trial, known as HVTN 702, involves more than 5 000 HIV-negative men and women across South Africa.

The study is designed to determine whether the regimen is safe, tolerable and effective in preventing HIV infection among South African adults.

Should South Africa prove that the vaccine is at least 50% effective, it could lead to the first licensed preventive HIV vaccine in the world. If successful, it could set the country apart in the global fight against HIV and Aids.

The vaccine has gone through all the different mandatory safety tests to ensure that it does not lead to undesired consequences. Although the vaccine is likely to be highly effective, scientists have cautioned that it is not yet the answer to the Aids problem.

For South Africa to lead this ground breaking research is a boost for the country, which has one of the highest HIV prevalence in the world.

The results of the trial are expected towards the end of 2021.

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