Focus on girls at risk of contracting HIV to curb the scourge

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Zodidi Mhlana

JOHANNESBURG- With nearly 8 million people in South Africa living with HIV/AIDS, special attention should be given to vulnerable groups to address the disease among young girls at risk, men who have sex with other men and sex workers.

This is according to Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) Secretary-General Anele Yawa, who said that South Africa and the world cannot be serious about eradicating the disease by 2030 if there’s no focus on these groups.

He said that while the country has been able to reduce new infections over the years, this was not adequate.

“The number of people being infected has gone down from 8000 to 5000 a week, but this is not enough. More than 2000 of those new infections are of young girls who sleep with older men. Sex workers are more at risk of contracting HIV if sex work is not decriminalized. The problem is that the government provides sex workers with condoms and the police use those condoms as proof of a crime committed. We need to ensure that all these vulnerable groups have access to pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP),” he said.

Yawa’s remarks come as the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) will release its National HIV Prevalence, Incidence, and Behaviour survey on Monday.

The government said that the survey was important as it assisted in determining the “the HIV status of participants, estimate the number of individuals recently infected, determine if the participant is taking antiretroviral medicine, and assess the level of resistance to antiretrovirals (ARVs) of those already on the treatment programme.”

South Africa has nearly 8 million people with the disease. Over 4 million of them take part in the antiretroviral therapy programme.

Yawa said everyone who lives with HIV should be part of the antiretroviral therapy programme.

The health department said that it was aiming at providing ARV’s to 90% of people living with HIV/AIDS and ensure that most people know their status.

“We are also concerned about HIV positive people who become part of the antiretroviral therapy programme and then are lost along the way. We also want everyone who needs treatment to receive it,” Yawa said.

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