HIV & AIDS hits Africa hard

The world gathers in Durban South African this week between 18-22 July for this year’s International Global AIDS conference.  This conference which  has its theme as “ Access Equity Rights Now”, seeks to address challenges facing Africans dying of HIV&AIDS related complications due to inability to access antiretroviral drugs, inadequate healthcare , poor advocacy campaigners and slim sensitization of communities.

AIDS which stands for acquired immune deficiency syndrome is the final stage of an infection from Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), though not everybody advances to this final stage. HIV progresses to AIDS if left untreated.  AIDS occurs when the immune system is badly damaged and you become vulnerable to opportunistic infections.

When the number of your CD4 cells falls below 200 cells per cubic millimeter of blood (200 cells/mm3), you are considered to have progressed to AIDS. (The CD4 count of an uninfected adult/adolescent who is generally in good health ranges from 500 cells/mm3 to 1,600 cells/mm3.) You can also be diagnosed with AIDS if you develop one or more opportunistic infections, regardless of your CD4 count.

Without treatment, people who are diagnosed with AIDS typically survive about 3 years. In cases where there is a dangerous opportunistic illness, life expectancy without treatment falls to about 1 year.

It has been estimated that since the beginning of the epidemic, more than 70 million people have been infected with the HIV virus and about 35 million people have died of HIV. On a global index, 36.7 million people were living with HIV at the end of 2015.  Although the burden of HIV/AIDS affection countries in varying degrees, it is estimated that Sub-Saharan Africa remains most severely affected. In Sub-Saharan Africa, nearly 1 in every 25 adults (4.4%) live with HIV and accounting for nearly 70% of the people living with HIV worldwide according to Global Health Observatory (GHO) data.

This year’s AIDS conference returning to South Africa is quite timely because low- and middle-income countries reported a total of 150 million people tested in 2014.

South Africa has the highest number of HIV epidemic in the world, with an estimated 6.3 million people living with HIV in 2013 which is more now. Female adults who are under 40 years of age are most affected by HIV/AIDS. About 80% of women aged 20 to 24 years old  South Africans are living with HIV/AIDS. While about 33% of 25 to 29 years old  South Africans with HIV/AIDS are men. 18 people dies of AIDS every hour in South Africa.

Globally Nigeria accounts for 9% of people living with HIV. Although about 3.2 million people were living with the infection in 2013, this number is bound to have increased. HIV prevalence in Nigeria is estimated to be remarkably small compared to other sub-Saharan countries like South Africa and Zambia. Approximately 210,000 people died from AIDS-related illnesses in Nigeria in 2013, which is 14% of the global total.

Effort is continuously been made to make available antiretroviral drugs in most countries and locations of Af­rica and sub-Saharan Africa which makes it possible for 17 million people living with HIV to have access to treatment that helps keep their viral load in check.

With over 5000 new infections occurring every week in sub Sa­haran Africa, the World Health Organization (WHO) has rec­ommended that anybody di­agnosed with HIV should be placed on antiretroviral drugs as soon as possible, to help keep them healthy and most impor­tantly because the antiretroviral helps to prevent them infecting other people.

“This was a strategic decision to offer a more holistic format to the traditional conference set-up,” said Chris Beyrer, IAS Pres­ident and AIDS 2016 Co-Chair. “It will better enable delegates to access the strong pre-confer­ence programming that will be offered.”

Olive Shisana, AIDS 2016 Lo­cal Co-Chair said: “This is the second time that Durban will be hosting the International AIDS Conference and marks a major milestone in the HIV response. We want to create an enhanced conference experience for everyone involved.”

The dedicated theme for this year’s International AIDS conference  “Access Equity Rights Now”, is a call to action to work together and reach the people who are still unable to access to comprehensive treatment, prevention, care and support services. About 60% of people living with HIV remain without antiretroviral therapy so this call to action is for services to get to them.  Women and girls, men who have sex with men, transgender people, sex workers, young people, and people who use drugs and other marginalized groups remain under-prioritized in the response. This call to action is to get to them too. Investments in HIV prevention research needs to be increased and widespread violations of human rights including criminalisation continue that undermine effective responses needs to be checked.

This year’s AIDS 2016 is convened by five permanent partners: IAS, Global Network of People Living with HIV (GNP+), The International Community of Women with HIV/AIDS (ICW), International Council of AIDS Service Organizations (ICASO) and UNAIDS in collaboration with international and South African scientific and civil society partners. It is expected to convene over 18,000 delegates from around the world, including up to 1,000 journalists.