Little Travellers HIV/AIDS Initiative

HIV/AIDS in South Africa

"I believe that this could very well be looked back on as the sin of our generation. I look at my parents and ask, where were they during the civil rights movement? I look at my grandparents and ask, what were they doing when the holocaust in Europe was occurring with regard to the Jews, and why didn't they speak up? And when we think of our great, great, great-grandparents, we think how could they have sat by and allowed slavery to exist? And I believe that our children and their children, 40 or 50 years from now, are going to ask me, what did you do while 40 million children became orphans in Africa?"
 Rich Stearns, President of World Vision, US

The Prevalence of HIV/AIDS in South Africa

Children The Republic of South Africa is amongst the world's countries most ravaged by HIV/AIDS. South Africa covers 1,221,042 square kilometers and has a population of approximately 40 million. However, according to the UNAIDS report on the Global AIDS Epidemic (2004), the number of HIV infected individuals in South Africa is 5.3 million. A more recent report (Nov 14,2005) from The Mail & Guardian states that "South Africa has an estimated 6,3-million people living with HIV/Aids -- the highest total in the world. More than 600 people die every day of the disease. Nearly 30% of pregnant women are infected with the virus". The hardest-hit province is KwaZulu-Natal. The Sydney Morning Herald reports on Nov 11,2005 that an estimated 40 per cent of the population in the province of KwaZulu-Natal (where the Hillcrest AIDS Centre operates) is HIV-positive.

The Perception of HIV/AIDS Among the Population

Due to many factors including the low educational level of the population and an ambivalent government position, misconceptions regarding preventions and treatments for HIV/AIDS abound in South Africa. Until 2001, then-president Thabo Mbeki publicly questioned the causal relationship between HIV and AIDS; more recently, in 2003, he infamously said in an interview with the Washington Post, "personally, I don't know anyone who has died of AIDS. I really honestly don't." (Washington Post, 25/09/2003). The government of South Africa did not introduce antiviral drugs to treat AIDS in the population until 2003, due to political pressure from protesters around the world (BMJ, 327:1246). At the XVI International World AIDS Conference held in Toronto in August 2006, the South African government displayed lemon, garlic, beetroot, olive oil, and African potato - but not anti-retroviral drugs - as their response to HIV/AIDS. This AIDS conference represented the third consecutive one of its kind in which Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang made statements rejecting scientific evidence for the efficacy of anti-retrovirals (view cartoon). The South African governments behaviour has drawn harsh criticism from international experts. In his keynote address at that conference, United Nations Special Envoy to HIV/AIDS in Africa, Stephen Lewis pronounced:

"South Africa is the unkindest cut of all. It is the only country in Africa, amongst all the countries I have traversed in the last five years, whose government is still obtuse, dilatory and negligent about rolling out treatment. It is the only country in Africa whose government continues to propound theories more worthy of a lunatic fringe than of a concerned and compassionate state. Between six and eight hundred people a day die of AIDS in South Africa. The government has a lot to atone for. I'm of the opinion that they can never achieve redemption." (Read Stephen Lewis' entire speech).

To learn more about the South African government's history of AIDS denialism, read "AIDS, Science, and Governance: The battle over Antiretroviral Therapy in post-Apartheid South Africa" by Prof. Nattrass of the AIDS and Society Research Unit of the University of Cape Town.

Get Educated

Let's make no mistake - HIV/AIDS is a global crisis. In North America it is relatively easy to ignore this problem. Part of the global solution is to get education and awareness about HIV/AIDs. We've compiled a short summary and some quick facts to help get you up to speed on the leading cause of death worldwide for those aged 15-49.

HIV/AIDS Quick Facts


In 2005, an estimated 40 million people were living with HIV and AIDS in the world. Two-thirds of people living with AIDS live in Sub-Saharan Africa.

  • There were 4.9 million new cases of HIV and AIDS in 2005. Approximately 640,000 of those were in children under the age of 15.
  • AIDS killed an estimated 3.1 million people worldwide in 2005

The human immunodeficiency virus, commonly called HIV, is a retrovirus that primarily infects vital components of the human immune system. AIDS is an acronym for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome and is defined as a collection of symptoms and illnesses that result from a compromised immune system. There is no known cure for HIV or AIDS. Read Wikipedia's AIDS article.

Want to learn more about HIV/AIDS? A good compilation of the worldwide situation is BBC's The Aids Crisis In Depth. Otherwise we have many other resources in our links page.