Africa has World’s Largest AIDS Population – Abdool Karim

UKZN commemorated World AIDS Day on the Westville campus.UKZN commemorated World AIDS Day on the Westville campus.

Africa has about 70 percent of the world’s HIV.

That startling fact was revealed by Acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research, Professor Salim Abdool Karim while discussing the global HIV epidemic at the World AIDS Day commemoration held on the Westville campus.

Abdool Karim said the latest data (2015) showed that 36.7 million people world-wide were living with HIV, which translated into about 40 000 new infections every week.

‘HIV does not affect every country equally but we do know that every single country has reported cases of HIV,’ he said.

Using the theme “Leadership, Commitment and Impact”, World AIDS Day was internationally observed to remember those who have died because of HIV/AIDS and also those affected by the disease.

Abdool Karim referred to a recent World /AIDS Day article he co-authored in the Lancet HIV journal which examined transmission networks and the risk of HIV. ‘Our research results provide new insights into why young women have such high rates of HIV and we do so through analysing the genetic codes of the virus,’ he said.

The study, conducted among about 10 000 people in a rural community in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, revealed that the highest rate of HIV is among young women - below the age of 25. ‘This is something we have known since 1990,’ said Abdool Karim. ‘But now we know that they got their virus from men who are on average nine years older than them. So these teenagers are getting infected with HIV from men in their 30’s.’

‘The men in the 30’s are getting HIV from women in their 30’s, who have a very high prevalence of HIV. In this community, about 60 percent of the women in their 30’s have HIV infection. And why do so many of them have HIV? They got infected when they were young.’

Abdool Karim emphasised the need to find ways to prevent infection, specifically for young women. He said this should go beyond the usual advice of being faithful, using a condom and being circumcised. ‘Being faithful is pointless advice for young girls,’ he said. ‘Because this young 18-year-old girl is going to be faithful to the man who is going to give her HIV, because she can’t insist on his faithfulness.’

‘This is a wily virus and it has beaten us so far, in many aspects. But we are going to outsmart it. We just need time and the technology. We need to be able to do the research and we will defeat HIV,’ he said.

AIDS activist Ms Zonke Ndlovu emphasised that prevention was better than cure. Ndlovu encouraged those present to get tested and to condomise to prevent being infected.

UKZN’s Executive Director: Human Resources Ms Avril Williamson reaffirmed the University’s commitment to ‘unite in the fight against HIV.’ She encouraged all those present to know their status.

Mr Bongani Zondi entertained the audience with a poem while Mr Russel Mnguni and Ms Nontobeko Buthelezi served as programme directors at the event hosted by the Vice-Chancellor and Principal Dr Albert van Jaarsveld, the Human Resources Division and Student Services.

Raylene Captain Hasthibeer