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.
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.
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.
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.
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.