South Africa: Why So Many People Still Die From Aids-Related Illnesses Despite More People Being On Treatment


Twenty years ago antiretroviral medicines to treat HIV were a rare luxury in South Africa. The rich could buy them for tens of thousands of rands in the private sector. Most had no access to treatment at all. At the time, president Thabo Mbeki and his infamous minister of health Manto Tshabalala-Msimang were fiercely opposed to providing antiretroviral treatment in the public sector. Those were terrible days. Many lives were lost.

Today, one of the main challenges in the fight against Aids is the lack of availability of diagnostics and drugs that can help save lives of people suffering from advanced HIV; who are very vulnerable to deadly opportunistic infections such as tuberculosis, meningitis and severe bacterial infections.

When Doctors Without Borders (MSF) started treating people with antiretrovirals in Khayelitsha on the outskirts of Cape Town, the clinics were quickly flooded with very ill people. Many were extremely weak; some had to be carried on the back of relatives or in wheelbarrows - haunting experiences.

But there was new hope.

As patients were getting better on treatment, this hope emboldened people living with HIV to demand that the government respect their right to health. After four years of...

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