Progress towards the Millennium Development Goals

A brief history of South Africa's response to AIDS

N P Simelela, W D F Venter


The story of the AIDS response in South Africa over the past 4 years is one of great progress after almost a decade of complex and tragic denialism that united the world and civil society in a way not seen since the opposition to apartheid. Today the country can boast >2 million people on antiretroviral therapy, far and away the largest number in the world. Prevention efforts appear to be yielding results. The estimated number of annual new HIV infections declined by 79 000 between 2011 and 2012. New HIV infections among adults aged 15 - 49 years are projected to decline by 48% by 2016, from 414 000 (2010) to ~215 000 (2016). The national incidence rate has reached its lowest level since the disease was first declared an epidemic in 1992, translating into reductions in both infant and under-5 mortality and an increase in life expectancy from 56 to 60 years over the period 2009 - 2011 alone. This is largely thanks 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. 

Authors' affiliations

N P Simelela, Special Adviser on Health Matters within the Presidency and former Chief Director of HIV & AIDS within the National Department of Health

W D F Venter, Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute and Department of Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa

Full Text

PDF (97KB)


Millenium Development Goals; HIV; AIDS response; Mbeki; Manto

Cite this article

South African Medical Journal 2014;104(3):249-251. DOI:10.7196/SAMJ.7700

Article History

Date submitted: 2013-11-06
Date published: 2014-01-20

Article Views

Abstract views: 9578
Full text views: 24766

Comments on this article

*Read our policy for posting comments here