AIDS in South Africa

As most already know, Human Immunodeficiency Virus/Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (HIV/AIDS) has been the fastest growing epidemic in the world in the past couple of decades. South Africa has been one of the hardest hit nations. The first diagnosed case of HIV in South Africa occurred in 1982. The first national HIV/AIDS survey was conducted in 1990, and it revealed that around 100,000 South Africans had been infected in South Africa. Over the decade and a half, HIV/AIDS exploded in South Africa. By 1995, over 800,000 (about two percent of the population) South Africans were believed to have been infected. By 2001, around a quarter of the country was infected. Since 2001, the South African Department of Health has begun to control the spread. But it is still estimated one out of every five South Africans are infected. There is an important question there need to be asked. How did the epidemic spread so fast? HIV/AIDS largest years of growth occurred between 1993 and 2001. For those who don’t know, the South African government was undergoing radical changes in the 1990’s. The end of the Apartheid era was occurring, and Nelson Mandela was elected as the country’s first black President in 1994. Upon coming to power, Mandela was faced with the challenge of helping the majority of citizens of the country who had been knocked down during the Apartheid years, get back on their feet. One day he hoped, South Africa would become a “rainbow nation”. During Mandela’s presidency, there was so much emphasis on fixing the wrongs of Apartheid health was sort of an afterthought. Today, many question the efforts of the Department of Health during that time, claiming that they did not do as much as they could have. Another major factor that has contributed to the spread of HIV/AIDS in South Africa is the lack of awareness. There are countless misconceptions about the epidemic. These include: you can’t get the virus if you’re having sex for the first time and it can be cured by having sex with a virgin. For a time, many did not even know that the virus was spread via sexual intercourse The common, educated American probably thinks people are very stupid to believe such myths, but it important to remember that many South Africans have not received a proper education; this is especially true during the Apartheid era.  Also contributing to the fast spread is women being raped by HIV positive men. Surveys of South African women who live in townships have shown that over 90% of the time, they are not the ones who are initiating the sexual relations. Many HIV positive men do not use condoms, and women are hesitant to ask men to use them, fearing their own safety. Realizing their mistake from the 1990’s South Africa’s government has seriously begun to address the HIV/AIDS crisis. Serious funding has been issued for both HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment. Condoms are being issued by the government, and many awareness programs have been created using government money. The government is also providing anti-retroviral drugs to those who cannot afford them, to help slow the onset of the virus.

For my internship, I worked with an organization called LoveLife. LoveLife is targeting the newest generation of South Africans, in an attempt to teach them about HIV/AIDS. LoveLife goes to schools and has their own facility. They talk to kids about the dangers, symptoms and causes of HIV/AIDS and the best way to prevent one from acquiring the virus. LoveLife is one of many organizations that is helping to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS. The spread of HIV/AIDS has slowed dramatically during the last few years in South Africa. The number of infected people has actually shrunk slightly. However, millions are still infected, and thousands are dying each day. Unfortunately it appears this trend will continue for several more years. But, the long term future may be becoming bright, as long as the awareness programs continue, and advances in HIV/AIDS treatment are made.  

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