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South Africa has made significant progress in the fight against HIV/AIDS, but the country still has the highest number of people who are HIV positive in Africa, according to a new study.

The study, published in the journal Nature, found that 5.3 million people under the age of 50 are HIV positive in South Africa — about 17% of South African adults aged between 15 and 49.

In Johannesburg alone, it found, almost 500,000 people are HIV positive. Meanwhile, KwaZulu-Natal has the highest number of people who are HIV positive both in South Africa and across the African continent, with 1.4 million people living with HIV.

The study was conducted by the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), and researched infection rates between 2000 and 2017.

Research for the study was done in 46 countries in Africa, and it’s hoped that the findings will help governments and other stakeholders formulate improved policies that can start reversing infections rates, encourage people to get tested for HIV, and get those who are HIV+ on antiretroviral treatment (ARVs).

The study also found that South Africa has a significantly higher number of people who are HIV positive than its neighbours. In Namibia, for example, the HIV adult prevalence rate is 13.8%.

In Zimbabwe and Mozambique, respectively, it’s 13.5% and 11.9%; and in Kenya and Nigeria it’s 5.6% and 3%.

However, according to experts, this does not necessarily mean the epidemic is worsening. But could instead indicate that more people are living longer as a result of antiretroviral therapies.

Speaking to Times Live, Wits University professor Francois Venter said: “17% sounds about right for South Africa. More people on HIV treatment are living longer.”

Andy Gray, a pharmacologist at the University of KwaZulu-Natal added that he doesn't think "South Africa’s epidemic is getting worse. Prevalence would also be expected to increase as mortality drops because of antiretroviral therapy.”

“More persons living with HIV are living longer,” he added. “The more important figure is the incidence, or the number of new cases.”

Sub-Saharan Africa remains the global epicentre of the HIV epidemic, with an estimated 66% of all people who are living with the virus globally located in the region, according to UK-based organisation Avert.

The organisation also estimates that “among this group, 19.6 million are living in east and southern Africa, which saw 800,000 new HIV infections in 2017.”

The journal Nature highlighted that HIV/AIDS is a leading cause of death in sub-Saharan Africa, despite “the rapid increase in the use of ARTs since the mid-2000s and the resulting decline in mortality.”

At the moment, an estimated 34% of people in east and southern Africa and 60% of people in west and central Africa who are living with HIV are not on ARVs.


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