Current HIV/AIDS Reports

, Volume 12, Issue 2, pp 256–261 | Cite as

A Political and Social History of HIV in South Africa

  • Nono Simelela
  • W. D. Francois Venter
  • Yogan Pillay
  • Peter BarronEmail author
The Global Epidemic (SH Vermund, Section Editor)
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Topical Collection on The Global Epidemic


For the past 25 years, South Africa has had to deal with the inexorable and monumental rise of HIV. From one or two isolated cases, in the late 1980s, South Africa now has an estimated 6.4 million people infected with HIV, with high rates of concomitant tuberculosis, which will profoundly affect the country for decades to come. For nearly 10 years, the South African government’s response to the HIV epidemic was described as denialist, which was estimated to have resulted in the deaths of 330,000 people because lifesaving antiretroviral therapy (ART) was not provided (Chigwedere et al. J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr. 49:410–15, 2008; Heywood 2004). However, the story of the HIV and AIDS response in South Africa over the past 5 years is one of great progress after almost a decade of complex and tragic denialism that united civil society in a way not seen since the opposition to apartheid. Today, South Africa can boast of close to 3 million people on ART, by far the largest number in the world. Prevention efforts appear to be yielding results but there continues to be large numbers of new infections, with a profound peak in incidence in young women aged 15 to 24 years. In addition, infections occur across the gender spectrum in older age groups. As a result of the massive increase in access to ART after 2004 and particularly after 2008 as political will towards the HIV ART programme improved, there has been a marked increase in life expectancy, from 56 to 61 years in the period 2009–2012 alone; the aggressive expansion of the prevention of mother to child transmission (PMTCT) to HIV-positive pregnant women has been accompanied by dramatic decrease in HIV transmission to infants; and a 25 % decrease in child and infant mortality rates in the period 2009–2012. This progress in access is significantly due to a civil society movement that was prepared to pose a rights-based challenge to a governing party in denial and to brave health officials, politicians and clinicians working in a hostile system to bring about change.


HIV South Africa Health system 


Compliance with Ethics Guidelines

Conflict of Interest

Nono Simelela, W. D. Francois Venter, Yogan Pillay, and Peter Barron declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Human and Animal Rights and Informed Consent

This article does not contain any studies with human or animal subjects performed by any of the authors.

Supplementary material

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ESM 1 (XLSX 14 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nono Simelela
    • 1
  • W. D. Francois Venter
    • 2
  • Yogan Pillay
    • 3
  • Peter Barron
    • 3
    • 4
    Email author
  1. 1.The PresidencyPretoriaSouth Africa
  2. 2.Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute (WRHI), Faculty of Health SciencesUniversity of the WitwatersrandJohannesburgSouth Africa
  3. 3.National Department of HealthPretoriaSouth Africa
  4. 4.School of Public HealthUniversity of the WitwatersrandJohannesburgSouth Africa

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