Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi said on Tuesday he was not surprised by the results of a national HIV survey, lamenting the lack of sexual and reproductive education at schools.
The South African National HIV Prevalence, Incidence, Behaviour and Communication Survey of 2017 showed that while there has been a significant decline in South Africa’s HIV infection rate, young people are still at risk.
The survey found that there were an estimated 231 100 new infections in 2017, with infections among young people having risen to a total of 7.9% – with females at three-times higher risk than their male counterparts.
Rejected by parents
Motsoaledi recalled how he tried to introduce sexual and reproductive education at schools several years ago, only to have the idea vehemently rejected by parents and unions.
He said they were only allowed to do immunisation, eye testing and alcohol and drug campaigns.
“They said no sexual and reproductive rights education, saying that children are too young for that. I want to tell parents that kids these days know way too much. Facts are out there pointing to this,” he said, adding that social media was a contributing factor leading children to experiment.
The results of the survey were revealed in Pretoria – this is the fifth survey 2002. It is a population-based cross sectional survey of households in South Africa conducted between January and December 2017. Over 33 000 people were interviewed and almost 24 000 agreed to be tested for HIV.
Progress made with ART
The study further revealed that in 2017 there were 7.9 million people living with HIV in South Africa and over 60% or an estimated 4.4 million people were on antiretroviral treatment (ART).
It was also found that the viral suppression was 87.3% among people living with HIV, with females generally being more likely to be virally suppressed than males among those aged between 15 and 64 years.
“This suggests that the progress is being made in increasing ART coverage. But more still needs to be done,” said Dr Sizulu Moyo of the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) which conducted the survey.
Furthermore, although viral suppression is high among those on ART, not everyone who is living with HIV is on treatment, and subsequently only 62.3% of all people living with HIV, irrespective of treatment, were found to be virally suppressed.
The study also found that HIV prevalence peaked at 35 to 39 years of age for females and 45 to 49 years of age for males. Kwa-Zulu Natal was found to be the leading province in HIV prevalence, followed by the Free State and the Eastern Cape. The three least affected provinces were Limpopo, Northern Cape and Western Cape.
We need to do more
It was found that the country had made some progress in addressing the HIV epidemic. In terms of the UNAIDS 90-90-90 targets, the study found that 85% of people living with HIV have tested for the virus and know their positive status, with 71% of this sub-group on ART, and 86% of those on ART being virally suppressed.
“This shows that the country has made a significant progress towards reaching the 90-90-90 targets,” said Dr Edmore Marinda of the Research Use and Impact Assessment (RIA) Unit in the HSRC.
Medical male circumcision was lauded as one of the best interventions to reduce HIV among males. The increase in the number of men who are medically circumcised rose from 18.6% in 2012 to 30.8% in 2017.
“Although encouraging, this finding highlights a need to continue promoting and creating a demand for voluntary medical male circumcision with an immediate target among males in the 15-to-34 year old age group,” said Professor Leickness Simbayi, the overall principal investigator. – Health-e News.
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