Now that South Africa has been hailed as a model country for its HIV treatment, some are fearing that this success may be causing people to be careless about possible infection and contraction of the virus.
“I find that people don’t take the virus as seriously as they should be, especially people our age,” said University of Pretoria volunteer AIDS counselor Palesa Motau, who is 21 years old. Since she began her volunteer work at the university, she has heard the comments, “There’s a Plan B, there’s a Plan C — I’ve always got a safety net” and “It’s fine if I get HIV, then I can get treatment.” She says, “That irritates me.”
Ian Sannewhich is the managing director of Right to Care, a non-profit organization that runs the Themba Lethu clinic. He stated, “It’s almost like your ‘McDonald’s drive-thru’ principle. The doctor orders it and by the time you get to the next window your drugs are ready,” describing how the life-saving anti-retroviral drugs are dispensed at the click of a button.
However, as the country with the highest number of HIV/AIDS patients struggles to provide medication to its remote areas, an increase in the death rate has occurred from the virus in Eastern Cape. “The impact on HIV patients from not taking their medication is huge,” said Marcus Louw of the Treatment and Action Campaign, an NGO that is part of the Eastern Cape Health Crisis Action Coalition. “If you do not take your ARV pills for weeks, your body develops resistance to the drug and you are also at a high risk of HIV-opportunistic illnesses.”
More than 5.5 million South Africans are living with the disease, comprising 11 percent of the population. Among women of reproductive age, a staggering 20 percent are HIV-positive.
For those who do have access to the drugs, the life expectancy has shot up to 60 years from just 51.6 in 2005.
December 1 is recognized as World AIDS Day.
If you don’t know your status, stop by one of the HIV testing sites in your area for free rapid results.