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AIDS in South Africa

South Africa has one of the most severe AIDS epidemics in the world. The UNAIDS World AIDS Day Report 2011 reported that an estimated 5.6 million people were living with HIV and AIDS in South Africa in 2009. This is the highest number of people in any country. In the same year, it is estimated that 310,000 South Africans died of AIDS-related causes (UNAIDS 2010 report on the global AIDS epidemic). As a result, the country has lost a huge number of lives to AIDS over the last three decades.

Almost 18% of South Africans aged 15-49 are HIV positive, with younger adults being particularly affected.

South Africa also has the largest antiretroviral therapy programme in the world. Nonetheless, given that it has the world’s largest epidemic, access to treatment is low. At the end of 2010, an estimated 55 percent of people who needed it were receiving treatment for HIV, according to the World Health Organisation.

One of South Africa’s current objectives in its HIV and AIDS Strategic Plan is to address wider problems that much of the population face, such as poverty, in their HIV prevention efforts. The plan also addresses social factors, such as stigma and discrimination. These factors can act as a barrier to accessing prevention, treatment and care and therefore facilitate the spread of HIV among high-risk groups and the general population.


Impact upon children and families

South Africa’s HIV and AIDS epidemic has had a devastating effect on children. There were an estimated 330,000 under-15s living with HIV in 2009, a figure that has almost doubled since 2001 (UNAIDS report on the global AIDS epidemic). According to the AIDS charity AVERT, HIV in South Africa is transmitted predominantly through heterosexual sex, with mother-to-child transmission being the other main infection route. Because the virus is transmitted from the child's mother in cases of mother-to-child transmission, the HIV-infected child is born into a family where the virus may have already had a severe impact on health, income, productivity and the ability to care for each other.

The age bracket that AIDS most heavily targets – younger adults – means it is not uncommon for one or more parents to die from AIDS while their offspring are young. The number of premature deaths due to HIV/AIDS has risen significantly over the last decade from 39 percent to 75 percent in 2010. It is estimated there are 1.8 million AIDS orphans where one or both parents are deceased in South Africa, and that the HIV and AIDS epidemic is responsible for half of the country’s orphans. The loss of a parent not only has an huge emotional impact on these orphaned children. For most families it also means financial hardship.


HIV and AIDS Statistics (end of 2008)

People living with HIV and AIDS
Globally: 33.4 million
Sub Saharan Africa: 22.4 million
South Africa: 5.3 million

South Africa - People living with HIV and AIDS
Adults (over 15): 5 million, of which 3 million are female. This is 17.5% of the adult population.
Male youth (15-24): 181 000
Female youth (15-24): 831 000
Children (0-14): 220 000
New infections each year: 436 000
Paediatric new infections: 56 000
AIDS orphans: 1.8 million
Annual AIDS deaths: 310 000


UNAIDS (2009) AIDS Epidemic Update: November 2009

Department of Health (2009) 2008 National Antenatal Sentinel HIV & Syphilis Prevalence Survey

For more information see HIV and AIDS in South Africa by the AIDS charity AVERT.


Soweto Connection raises funds in Ireland for South African community-based groups that are working with people affected by HIV/AIDS. The money collected makes urgent treatment available to HIV/AIDS patients, provides home-based care to sufferers, and assists in HIV/AIDS prevention services.

All donations are gratefully accepted, and all money goes directly to helping AIDs victims and their families.