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HIV is not a death sentence; you can live a normal life – Sadag

HIV is not a death sentence; you can live a normal life – Sadag
The waiting area at the Ravensmead Clinic, Parow, Cape Town, on 2 December 2022. (Photo: David Harrison)

Although HIV is still prominent in South Africa, it no longer means that those who contract the disease will die from it. This is according to Lara Ellwood of the South African Depression and Anxiety Group.

There are 8.5 million people living with HIV in South Africa, with 85,796 deaths as a result of Aids in 2022, according to a Statistics SA report

“You will live a normal life and things are going to be okay,” said Lara Ellwood of the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag) and host of a Facebook Live discussion titled “World Aids Day – Unpacking Mental Health and HIV”. 

The medical definition of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a virus that is transferred from an infected human to an uninfected human, through bodily fluid, said Zella Young, chief operations officer at LifeSense Disease Management.

The virus then attacks the CD4 cells while replicating itself, explains Young. 

If HIV is left untreated, the virus continues to replicate itself, causing a “viral overload” which impacts the immune system of the infected person, she says. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: “Equalise or lose the Aids battle, UNAids warns” 

Visit Daily Maverick’s home page for more news, analysis and investigations

Former health minister Aaron Motsoaledi. (Photo: EPA / GEORG HOCHMUTH)

Change post-2016

In 2016, then health minister Aaron Motsoaledi announced in his health budget vote speech in Parliament that “in September this year, we will remove CD4 count as an eligibility criterion for ARV treatment”.  

Before this amendment, ARV treatment was only available to infected people when their CD4 count was below a certain level. However, during that time, treatment would start late in the disease’s progression, Young explained. 

“If this is the only message that goes out today, it’s that if you take your ARVs constantly and correctly, the viral load can decrease, and if the virus is undetectable it is non-transmittable … HIV cannot be transmitted,” said Young.

Read more in Daily Maverick: “One day a year is not enough to fight HIV in South Africa

A counsellor at the Ravensmead Clinic, Parow, Cape Town, holds a rapid HIV test with a negative result on 2 December 2022. (Photo: David Harrison)

HIV counsellor Maureen Baadjies discusses the HIV rapid test in her hand with a patient in her office at the Ravensmead Clinic, Parow, Cape Town, on 2 December 2022. (Photo: David Harrison)

The stigma continues 

As long as there is still stigma attached to HIV, people will not come forward, said Young. 

The element of the unknown with regard to HIV often increases anxiety, and it’s important to “remind ourselves that it [HIV] does not have to define us”, said Ellwood. 

“It’s okay to have a chronic illness,” Ellwood said. DM/MC


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