South Africa’s HIV epidemic has stabilised

South Africa’s HIV epidemic has levelled off at a prevalence of 10.9% for people aged two years and older, with 5.2 million people estimated to be living with HIV in 2008.

HIV prevalence has also declined among children aged 2-14, from 5.6% in 2002 to 2.5% in 2008, and a decline in new infections has also been noted among teenagers aged 15-19.

These findings emerge from the third national HIV prevalence, incidence and communication survey which was conducted in 2008 and which followed surveys in 2002 and 2005.

“This latest survey provides us with an opportunity to understand the HIV epidemic over time, and there are promising findings of a changing pattern of HIV infection among children and youth”, said Dr Olive Shisana, CEO of the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) and one of the two principal investigators of the study.

“The good news is that the change in HIV prevalence in children is most likely attributable to the successful implementation of several HIV-prevention interventions,” Shisana said. These interventions are related to addressing HIV in early childhood, particularly programmes to prevent mother-to-child transmission in the Western Cape, where the largest decline of 6 percentage points occurred.

Professor Thomas Rehle, the other principal investigator of the study, emphasised that “we may witness for the first time a decrease in HIV incidence among teenagers”. Indirect HIV incidence estimates were mathematically derived from single year age prevalence in 15-20 year olds. “This method is best applicable in younger age groups when the effect of AIDS-related mortality on HIV prevalence levels is still minimal,” Rehle explained.

Source: Human Sciences Research Council, South Africa

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