Because HIV makes it difficult for the immune system to fight infections, it’s important for everyone to get vaccinated against infectious diseases (e.g. the flu) and help curb opportunistic infections for our most vulnerable citizens.
Johannesburg, 17 December 2019: World AIDS Day, held on 1 December each year, is an opportunity for people, communities and organisations worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV, to show support for people living with HIV, and to commemorate those who have died from an AIDS-related illness.
It is also an opportunity to focus on the importance and benefits of vaccinating people living with HIV and the community around them, against vaccine-preventable diseases such as the flu, meningococcal meningitis, typhoid fever, yellow fever, Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B, to name but a few.
According to Statistics South Africa, the estimated overall HIV prevalence rate in 2019 is approximately 13,5% among the South African population. Over a fifth of South African women in their reproductive ages (15 – 49 years) are HIV positive. Although HIV prevalence among the youth aged 15 to 24 has remained fairly stable over time, the total number of persons living with HIV in South Africa increased from an estimated 4,64 million in 2002 to 7,97 million by 2019.
Even though over 60% of South Africans living with HIV are accessing antiretroviral treatment, there are challenges to retaining people living with HIV in treatment adherence, with a number of patients being lost to follow-up after initiating treatment.
“South Africa is home to one of the largest HIV patient populations in the world with over 200 000 new HIV infections each year” says Dr. Nasiha Soofie, Medical Head for Sanofi Pasteur Vaccines in South Africa. “World Aids Day provides an opportunity to reflect on the current status of the pandemic, celebrate our achievements whilst being fully cognisant that we have many milestones ahead in terms of curbing new infections, increasing access and compliance to ARVs.”
From a regional perspective, UNAIDS reports that in eastern and southern Africa, there were 20,6 million people living with HIV in 2018. Furthermore, in 2018, there were 800 000 new HIV infections, and 310 000 deaths. Of those who have HIV, only 13,8 million accessed treatment in 2018.
In addition, in sub-Saharan Africa, four in five new infections among adolescents aged 15 to 19 are in girls, and young women aged 15 to 24 are twice as likely to be living with HIV than men. Women who have experienced physical or sexual intimate partner violence are also 1,5 times more likely to acquire HIV than women who have not.
There is some good news though. While life expectancy at birth declined between 2002 and 2006 in South Africa, largely due to the impact of the HIV and AIDS epidemic, expansion of health programmes to prevent mother-to-child transmission as well as access to antiretroviral treatment has partly led to the increase in life expectancy since 2007. In 2019, life expectancy at birth is estimated at 61,5 years for males and 67,7 years for females and continues to increase.
The infant mortality rate too has declined from an estimated 56,5 infant deaths per 1 000 live births in 2002 to 22,1 infant deaths per 1 000 live births in 2019.1 Similarly, the under-five mortality rate declined from 79,0 child deaths per 1 000 live births to 28,5 child deaths per 1 000 live births between 2002 and 2019.
In the last 10 years, effective antiretroviral therapy has resulted in HIV infection becoming a chronic, manageable illness. Hence, HIV-infected individuals now have a longer lifespan. However, they remain at high risk of acquiring vaccine- preventable diseases throughout their lives.
Dr Soofie says World AIDS Day is not just about raising awareness of global HIV/AIDS statistics, although that’s important. It’s also about educating people about the importance of vaccination, particularly for the most vulnerable members of our society.
“The consequences of getting vaccine-preventable diseases could be devastating for those with HIV and result in higher rates of illness or death. Since HIV can make it difficult for your immune system to fight infections, people living with HIV could benefit greatly from vaccines against preventable diseases such as chickenpox, flu, and polio.
Vaccines don’t just protect individuals from disease. They also protect communities. When most people in a community are immunised against a disease, a form of protection called ‘herd immunity’, there is far less chance of a disease outbreak. This is critically important as it provides a measure of protection for individuals with compromised immune systems, such as people living with HIV.”
Article by: SANOFI SOUTH AFRICA
- Stats SA. Mid-year HIV population estimates 2019. Statistics South Africa. 29 July 2019.
- UNAIDS DATA 2019. Accessed 29 November 2019. Available from: https://www.unaids.org/sites/default/files/media_asset/2019-UNAIDS-data_en.pdf
- UNAIDS. Fact Sheet – Global AIDS Update. Accessed 25 November 2019. Available from: https://www.unaids.org/en/resources/fact-sheet
- Dlamini SK, Madhi SA, Muloiwa R, et al. Guidelines for the vaccination of HIV-infected adolescents and adults in South Africa. S Afr J HIV Med 2018;19(1):a839.
- Sharing our passion: For Preventing Diseases with Vaccination. Available at: https://www.sanofi.com/-/media/Project/One-Sanofi-Web/Websites/Global/Sanofi-COM/
Common/docs/Vaccines/Flipbooks/SharingOurPassion/files/assets/common/downloads/Sharing_our_passion-2018_EN.pdf. Last accessed 04/10/2019.