The world’s attention in the past year has been focused overwhelmingly on COVID-19, but as we commemorate World AIDS Day on 1 December, it’s a stark reminder that there are other pandemics affecting millions of people around the world.
HIV statistics from UNAIDS reveal that 38 million people globally were living with HIV at the end of 2019. In South Africa, 7.5 million people or 18.7% of the adult population (ages 15-49) are HIV positive, which represents 19% of the global HIV burden. Also concerning is the HIV statistic in the adolescent girls and young women age group.
“In South Africa, girls and women between the ages of 15 and 24 are about seven times more likely to be HIV positive than their male peers,” says Dr Albert Machinda, HIV expert, researcher and COO at Shout-It-Now, a South African non-governmental organisation specialising in mobile, community-based HIV counselling, testing and prevention services. “With approximately 785 new infections every day in this age group, more needs to be done to test, treat and educate this vulnerable group,” says Machinda.
Making strong progress
Faced with the biggest HIV epidemic in the world, the South African Government, with help from organisations like Shout-It-Now, is fighting back. The country is making progress towards the UNAIDS 95-95-95 ambitious targets for 2030, where 95% of people living with HIV are aware of their status, 95% of all people diagnosed with HIV are receiving ARV treatment, and 95% of people on treatment have suppressed viral loads. UNAIDS data from this year shows that South Africa has reached 92% known status, 70% on HIV treatment and 64% virally suppressed.
In addition, the country has the world’s largest antiretroviral treatment (ART) programme, and it is the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to fully approve use of Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP).
“PrEP is a relatively new, safe HIV prevention medication that is highly effective for HIV negative people, but it is not widely known,” says Machinda. “When these tablets are taken daily, consistently and conscientiously, the risk of getting HIV from sex can be reduced by up to 99%. While it’s highly effective, it’s important that people know it’s not a lifetime treatment, and you can stop taking the tablet if you feel your risk of HIV infection is reduced.”
Empowering through information
In partnership with the South African Department of Health, Shout-It-Now is educating people about PrEP and is working to make it more accessible to communities in Gauteng and the North West, where it currently operates. Shout-It-Now is funded by PEPFAR (the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“One of our biggest challenges is making more people aware of PrEP and how it can prevent HIV infection, which is a primary focus for us, especially for our adolescent girls and young women, who are disproportionately affected by HIV. Driven by innovation, Shout-It-Now’s mobile health services use buses equipped with the latest technology to reach communities who need help the most. We’ve also reinvented our HIV counselling, testing and prevention services, so our field staff, who are young, highly trained and compassionate, can better relate to each client and empower the adolescent girls and young women to make an informed decision about taking PrEP as part of a healthy sex life,” says Machinda.
A healthier future
While Shout-It-Now delivers key HIV services, it also provides a range of behavioural programmes, together with various partners. These programmes equip participants with skills and knowledge on HIV and violence prevention, while also teaching life skills so they feel empowered to take control of their lives.
“Each client is important to us and our continued fight against HIV and AIDS in South Africa. But, no country can do it on its own, and to really make progress against the HIV pandemic, we need a global health response. In the same way that countries around the world took action against COVID-19, we need a similar commitment with HIV and AIDS. The theme for World AIDS Day 2020 is “global solidarity, shared responsibility”, which encourages the world to come together in international solidarity and renew the fight to end the AIDS pandemic,” says Machinda.
Contact Shout-It-Now through its WhatsApp number: +27 10 020 6021, or for more information visit https://shoutitnow.org/ or speak to a call centre agent on: +27 10 020 6021.