Reducing HIV infection rates in South Africa

Newton Prize South Africa project researchers doing fieldwork for HIV project

Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for over 70% of HIV infections worldwide, with South Africa containing the highest number of HIV infections and the world’s largest HIV treatment programme (UNAIDS, 2016).

Combination antiretroviral therapy (cART) is a treatment that prevents the HIV virus from making copies of itself in the body, lowering, or even removing, the risk of developing AIDS. Globally, the rapid upscaling of cART to more than 19 million people with HIV has resulted in substantial population level reductions in HIV related deaths. However, there has been limited evidence concerning its effectiveness in stemming the rate of new HIV infections within African populations, where the rate of new HIV infections remains unacceptably high.

A group of UK and South African researchers used one of the world’s largest population-based HIV cohorts to identify the gaps in current HIV prevention programmes and determine why the rate of new HIV infections remains so high. The research provided the first clear evidence of dramatic population level declines in the rate of new HIV infections among both men and women. However, the results indicated the need to get more men onto consistent, suppressive cART so that new HIV infections can be further reduced among women.

Going forward, the researchers will use the population cohort to provide new insights into how the COVID-19 epidemic evolves in a rural African population, looking at how it can be controlled and seeking to understand the epidemic’s co-occurrence with HIV.

It has been a huge privilege to study the HIV epidemic in one of the world’s most severely affected rural communities and to witness first-hand the turning of the tide against this terrible disease.

Professor Frank Tanser, Africa Health Research Institute, South Africa and University of Lincoln, UK

An epidemic in retreat? Establishing the population impact of combination prevention strategies in a resource-poor, hyperendemic rural African population

Project leads: Professor Andrew Phillips, University College London, UK and Professor Frank Tanser, Africa Health Research Institute, South Africa & University of Lincoln, UK

Delivery partners: Academy of Medical Sciences, UK and the National Research Foundation, South Africa

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