Hidden from view – AIDS in rural South Africa

Over the past two decades the HIV epidemic has had devastating effects on the health and well being of communities in South Africa. More recently, access to life saving antiretroviral treatment and care through state and non governmental programmes has expanded remarkably.

Both the improved ability of people living with HIV to maintain their health and stronger government leadership have helped reduce social discrimination.

But challenges remain. People living in rural areas still struggle to gain access to the food and services they need to maintain their health because of poverty and because they live in remote areas. In addition, women’s ability to protect their health continues to be affected by discriminatory practices, economic marginalization and violence.

Without any authority in the household, they and their health are at the mercy of their husband’s choices and decisions.

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In this precarious environment, carers, some of whom are also directly affected by HIV, provide the most marginalized households with emotional support and access to state services.

Not having enough food causes extreme distress. Carers assist the most vulnerable secure social welfare grants to help them get by and to stay on their antiretroviral treatment.

KwaZulu-Natal is the province most affected by the HIV epidemic, where nearly 40 per cent of women attending antenatal clinics are HIV positive. The concerns they express have a resonance across the country however. Their role needs greater recognition and support as South Africa continues to develop its response to the epidemic.

Lets all urge President Jacob Zuma to ensure all branches of government are involved in fighting HIV/AIDS, rural poverty and gender-based discrimination. Email him on [email protected]

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