More work is needed to address the HIV/Aids epidemic among South African youth, the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) said at the opening plenary of the ninth South African Aids Conference in Durban on Tuesday. 

Professor Khangelani Zuma, who is the executive director of the social aspects of public health programme at the HSRC, told attendants that there were an estimated 231,000 new HIV infections in 2017 among people aged two-years-old and above.

The incidents were higher among females compared to males, with 122,000 females infected, compared to 109,000 males.

However, said Zuma, a particular area of concern was youth between 15 and 24 years of age. 

“This group needs a lot of attention and focus,” he said.

Chair of SA Aids Conference 2019 Professor Refilwe Phaswana-Mafuya speaks at the opening of the ninth conference at the Durban ICC. File photo: Twitter.

“In this group, it is estimated that there were 88,000 new cases of infection, three times higher in girls than boys in the age group. One third of the cases of new HIV infections came from girls who are 15 to 24 years. We really need to do a lot more work to deal with the HIV epidemic among the youth,” said Zulu.

And while there had been a 17 percent decline in incidents from 2012 to 2017, there had been an 11 percent increase of HIV infections among young boys, while the incident rate among young girls was declining.

Only 39 percent of the country’s youth living with HIV were on ART, said Zulu.

In her opening address, professor Refilwe Nancy Phaswana-Mafuya – who chairs the conference – said the event was happening at a “paradoxical time” as response to the epidemic was slowly weakening.

“Political will seems to be declining. A sense of urgency seems to have gotten lost. This conference is happening at a time when there are looming perceptions that the HIV epidemic is almost over, while we all know we have unacceptably high levels of HIV/Aids in South Africa and new infections are also high,” said Phaswana-Mafuya.

She said this was a conundrum and that the country could not afford to be complacent.

South Africa – Durban – 10 June 2019 – Preparations for the AIDS conference underway at the ICC in Durban
Picture: Doctor Ngcobo/African News Agency(ANA)

The conference was a milestone where stakeholders were compelled to think innovatively to ensure the epidemic “gets the attention it deserves”.

“We have to take a bold, fearless stance to moving the epidemic control agenda forward,” she said.

The conference is being held at the Inkosi Albert Luthuli International Convention Centre and runs from Tuesday to Friday. The second largest HIV conference in the world, it is attended by about 3000 delegates, of which about a quarter are from SADC, Europe, the USA and other parts of the world.

-ANA; editing by Devereaux Morkel