About 8% of people in the Western Cape are HIV positive and 94% of them know their status, according to Dr Juanita Arendse, the chief director of emergency and clinical services support in the provincial health department.
She was speaking at a World Aids Day event at Khayelitsha District Hospital on Friday December 1.
The international day raises awareness of the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (Aids) pandemic, caused by the spread of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). The day shows support for those living with HIV and Aids and mourns those who are among the more than 40 million people believed to have died from Aids-related illnesses since the start of the pandemic
Dr Arendse said about 68% of those in the Western Cape who knew their HIV-positive status were on treatment and 90% of them had undetectable levels of the virus.
However, she added, most of those on treatment were women, meaning a lot of HIV-positive men were going untreated.
The provincial health department’s biggest challenge was to get people on treatment and keep them on treatment, she said, noting that there was a high rate of patients defaulting.
“More than a hundred thousand who started treatment have defaulted on treatment due to various issues, but we want to welcome them back into treatment without any judgement,” she said.
The prevalence of HIV in the Western Cape was low compared to other parts of the country, and one of the reasons for that was prevention initiatives, she said.
“We need young people to help us with prevention. We are on the right track, but there is more that we need to do.
‘“When the virus is undetectable, then the disease is not transmitted. We should make our voices louder about this, and we need to prevent infection.”
The head of the provincial health department, Dr Keith Cloete, said that based on the latest statistics, it looked like the department had started to turn the tide against HIV/Aids.
From 2015 to 2022, HIV prevalence had dropped in the province, but despite that people were still having sex without using condoms, he said.
Over the last 20 to 30 years, great strides had been made in fighting the stigma attached to the disease, and while it was still there, young people today found it easier to talk openly about it.
A “whole of society” approach, in which health authorities listened to communities and were guided by them on their health needs, was needed to continue making gains against HIV/Aids, he said.
American consul general Todd Haskel said he has been going to World Aids Day events for almost 20 years and he had never felt more hopeful than he did now because of the advances in treatment and awareness.
The recent statistics showed that more people than ever were more aware of their HIV status, he said.