There is a steady increase in HIV prevalence in South Africa, a professor from the University of KwaZulu-Natal said at the opening of the Gauteng Aids Council conference in Johannesburg on Thursday.
The life expectancy in the country would soon plummet from 63 years to 46, Professor Alan Whiteside said.
HIV prevalence among women and among people between 20 and 24 years continued to increase with 29 percent of South African women being infected.
"HIV prevalence in Gauteng is well over 30 percent and provinces like KZN, Mpumalanga, Eastern Cape and the Free State have the highest prevalence rates in the country," Whiteside said.
Nearly 6.3 million South Africans living with HIV/Aids
He said there were nearly 6.3 million South Africans living with HIV/Aids and that most of them did not know about it.
Acting Gauteng premier Gwen Ramokgopa added that while the prevalence was not increasing at the speed it was previously, it was still increasing.
Smaller businesses need to come on board
She said smaller businesses also needed to come on board and deal with the epidemic as small, medium and micro Enterprises were key to Gauteng's economic growth.
"The high prevalence and the fact that SMMEs are not yet fully on board is a concern to us and we hope that this can be tackled during the conference," she said.
South Africa faced three key challenges regarding the HIV/Aids epidemic, the conference heard. These were prevention, treatment and dealing with the impact of the epidemic.
Whiteside said the impact was not only felt at government level and in the health department but also in communities, municipalities, in the work place and in schools.
Impact will peak in about 20 years
He said the impact of the virus would peak in about 20 years when more children were orphaned by the virus.
"Impact on the demographic structure is going to be greatest. The population is going to be smaller and the structure is going to be different. We can't say how, but the population may not reach 50 million," he said.
"Life expectancy will plummet. At the moment life expectancy is 63 years, but soon it will be 46 and falling."
The national director general of health, Thami Mseleku, said one of the other challenges the department faced was with young people who thought they were not at risk of the virus.
The conference, which began on Thursday morning, ends on Saturday afternoon. – (Sapa)
Visit our HIV/Aids Centre for more information.