10 YEARS OF HOPE AND ARVs

CityPress - - Front Page - ZINHLE MA­PUMULO zinhle.ma­pumulo@city­press.co.za

Ex­perts work­ing in the field of HIV and Aids say Aids-re­lated deaths have de­creased over the past decade, with a no­tice­able dif­fer­ence over the past five years. Es­ti­mates re­leased by the Ac­tu­ar­ial So­ci­ety of SA in 2011 sug­gest that Aids-re­lated deaths de­creased from 257 000 in 2005 to 194 000 in 2010. By 2013, the fig­ure stood at 160 000.

Though these sta­tis­tics are es­ti­mates and not a com­pletely re­li­able re­flec­tion, Pro­fes­sor Glenda Gray, pres­i­dent of the Med­i­cal Re­search Coun­cil, and Pro­fes­sor Khange­lani Zuma, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor and head of the bio­statis­tics re­search method­ol­ogy and data cen­tre at the Hu­man Sciences Re­search Coun­cil, be­lieve they are cred­i­ble.

Gray said the chal­lenge with know­ing the ex­act num­ber of Aids-re­lated deaths was that HIV was of­ten not re­ported as the cause of death by doc­tors.

“A per­son may die as a re­sult of tu­ber­cu­lo­sis or any ill­ness, but that ill­ness could have been trig­gered by a weak­ened im­mune sys­tem as a re­sult of HIV in­fec­tion. Due to con­fi­den­tial­ity and other fac­tors, a doc­tor may not write that the per­son died of Aids-re­lated ill­nesses,” she ex­plained.

Zuma agreed, adding that dif­fer­ent mod­els were used to ar­rive at Aids-re­lated-death es­ti­mates.

“Stats SA num­bers are quite small rel­a­tive to the to­tal deaths recorded in the coun­try due to the poor record­ing of HIV and Aids as the cause of death. How­ever, UN agency UNAids es­ti­mates clearly show a very high drop year on year of the per­cent­age of Aids deaths, [by] as high as 27% from 2012 to 2013,” he said.

Stats SA fig­ures sug­gest that 19 146 peo­ple died of Aids-re­lated ill­nesses in 2012 and 23 203 in 2013.

UNAids es­ti­mated that there were 220 000 Aids deaths in South Africa in 2012 and 160 000 in 2013.

Zuma ex­plained that al­though the fig­ures were far apart, “they co­in­cide very well with the ob­served in­crease in the num­bers of peo­ple liv­ing with HIV from ages 30 and above”.

Zuma and Gray said that al­though the fig­ures might look con­fus­ing, what was clear was that Aid­sre­lated deaths had def­i­nitely de­creased in South Africa.

Gray at­trib­uted this de­crease to the wide avail­abil­ity of an­tiretro­vi­ral (ARV) treat­ment.

She said: “South Africa man­aged to raise life ex­pectancy by five years in a few years be­cause of ARVs.

“In­creas­ing years of life by such a great fig­ure is some­thing that [nor­mally] takes coun­tries decades, but we did it [in a few years].

“This shows that the dis­ease, which was killing many peo­ple, is now be­ing man­aged prop­erly and, to some ex­tent, is be­ing con­trolled through treat­ment,” she said.

Zuma echoed the same sen­ti­ments, say­ing many lives had been saved by ARVs over the past decade.

But he said the coun­try must not be com­pla­cent be­cause “in 2014, 68% of deaths were averted mostly by wide ac­cess to ARVs, mean­ing that there are still deaths [re­lated to] HIV and Aids”.

South Africa started rolling out ARV treat­ment to the gen­eral pub­lic in April 2004.

To­day, more than 3 mil­lion peo­ple are ac­cess­ing the life-sav­ing drugs.

PHOTO: MARY-ANN PALMER

A DAY TO RE­MEM­BER De­cem­ber 1 marks World Aids Day. UNAids des­ig­nated the theme Get­ting to Zero for an­nual com­mem­o­ra­tion events and pub­lic aware­ness cam­paigns from 2011 to 2015

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