(Jerome Delay / Associated…)
JOHANNESBURG -- In South Africa, which has 5.7 million people living with HIV. more than any other country in the world, 5 million more people will be infected in the next two decades even if the government increases its AIDS funding, according to a new report to the government.
And that's the best-case scenario.
With increased funding and action to scale up male circumcisions, which researchers say stems the spread of the virus, new infections would fall to about 200,000 a year compared with the current rate of 500,000 a year. That would mean prevention of 6 million infections, the report said.
But if the government continues on its current spending trajectory, 7.5 million people would be infected within 20 years. The number of new infections each year would decline to only 350,000, said the report by a team of international experts commissioned to look at the funding of HIV over the next 20 years.
"This situation poses huge financial dangers and risks for the country, particularly at a time when South Africa is feeling the negative effects of the global economic recession and is struggling to maintain its government budget for a wide range of pressing needs including education, housing, job creation and other health priorities beyond HIV/AIDS," the report said.
It found the number of infections in South Africa was so high that a reversal of the epidemic was extremely difficult or impossible in the time frame. The report was overseen by the South African health and finance ministries with input from the Cape Town-based Centre for Economic Governance on AIDS in Africa and the international think-tank Results for Development Institute, or R4D. Read the full report here.
In other research, R4D has estimated that if global spending on HIV/AIDS continues at its current rate, there will be little or no reduction in infections by 2031.
South Africa's government was long criticized for its slow roll-out of anti-retroviral drugs and promotion of remedies like beet, garlic and lemon juice, particularly under former Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, who died of kidney failure last year after being dumped as health minister by President Jacob Zuma.
She was a protégée of the former president, Thabo Mbeki, who denied the link between HIV and AIDS and was toppled as president by Zuma's allies. South Africa began the rapid intensification of its HIV/AIDS strategy only last year, after Zuma took power.
The report appears to leave the government little option but to increase spending. In an interview with the Associated Press to mark World AIDS Day, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said his government had no choice but to keep spending.
"If we stop anything, we will just reverse all our gains," he said. Motsoaledi adding that if better decisions had been made and stronger action taken earlier, costs would be lower now.
A report for World AIDS Day by the Washington-based Institute of Medicine said the costs of anti-retroviral treatment in Africa were unsustainable and called for stronger action to prevent infections.