Hope On The Horizon For SA’s AIDS Epidemic.

Recent years have seen a lot of attention turned towards the rise and prevalence of AIDS in South Africa and this has lead to many concerns – both founded and unfounded. What really is the AIDS situation in South Africa? Is it still safe to visit the country? Questions such as these need to be asked and answered in order for you to enjoy at least some peace of mind while on holiday in the country.

So where and when did the AIDS crisis first hit South Africa? History tells us that the first recorded case of AIDS in the country was diagnosed in 1982. Initially it seemed that this disease was linked to homosexual behavior, but by 1985 it was clear that it was permeating many different facets of society and before long it began to be viewed as a crisis that was spiraling out of control. In 1990, the first national antenatal survey was done; with the results indicating that 0.8% of pregnant women were HIV positive. The following year the number of people who were HIV positive due to homosexual behavior equaled the number of HIV positive infections transmitted by heterosexual sex. Heterosexual infections have since become the leading means of transmission.

In 1992 Nelson Mandela took the first significant official response to the problem by addressing the National AIDS Convention of South Africa with the hopes of developing a national coping strategy for the disease. This was when the National AIDS Helpline was founded. Nevertheless, the HIV infection rate among pregnant women had risen to 4.3% by 1993. Since then different members of the government have been engaged in an ongoing battle of denial and accusation and efforts to prevent the continued spread of the disease have been largely unsuccessful. AIDS infections reached unprecedented new highs between 1993 and 2000 because the country was distracted by presidential elections and little attention was given to stopping the spread of this disease.

Today, South Africa has one of the highest AIDS infection rates in the world. By December 2005, 5.5 million people in South Africa had AIDS and nearly 1000 people died from the disease daily. It is difficult to determine exactly how far reaching the crisis is because the stigma surrounding the disease means that many AIDS related deaths are covered up instead of reported. The AIDS epidemic has also resulted in other unfortunate circumstances – such as the death of one or both breadwinners in family units and the astounding number of AIDS orphans. It is currently estimated that some 5.3 million people are infected with aids and that there are approximately 1.2 million AIDS Orphans. Fortunately it would seem that the government is finally making positive strides in preventing the spread of AIDS and HIV in South Africa. Apart from monumental efforts to make anti-retroviral drugs more accessible to infected people – including those from poorer communities – the government has embarked on a massive educational campaign. The campaign promotes safe sex, abstinence until marriage, faithfulness to one partner and regular HIV testing in order for people to be more aware of their status. Much of the educational campaign is aimed at younger generations who are less susceptible to customs and prejudice and thus more like to understand the threat involved with unsafe and random sexual encounters.

So, should all this stop you from visiting South Africa? No. While the AIDS epidemic in South Africa is certainly tragic, it should not deter you from visiting this beautiful country. Increased understanding about the spread of the disease has brought about improved public safety in general. As long as you refrain from having random intimate encounters with local singles, you should be in absolutely no danger from this unfortunate disease. The same surely applies to visiting any country and even to life in your own country, since AIDS is a global pandemic that you will encounter virtually anywhere.