The Government should be commended for the manner in which it has rolled out the largest antiretroviral programme in the world – a programme that now provides ARVs to more than three million South Africans. The ARV programme has had a marked effect on the disease. It has reduced deaths from a high of 345 607 in 2005 – when HIV/AIDS accounted for 50.7% of all deaths – to 162 445 this year, accounting for 30.5% of deaths.

The success of the ARV programme has, in turn, brought about a marked improvement in other vital statistics. Life expectancy has increased from less than 52 in 2005 to more than 62 this year. Infant mortality has also dropped sharply from 52 to 34.4 per thousand live births during the same period.

All this is an encouraging indication of the success of the ARV programme. However, it is far too early to proclaim “SA wins the HIV/AIDS War” as the Cape Times did on 30 November 2015.

HIV/AIDS remains the largest cause of death in South Africa – including those of 162 445 people – or over 3 100 people per week. This compares with the +/- 9 000 Ebola deaths in the outbreak last year that received almost nightly coverage in the international media. Nor can we ignore the high – though decreasing – number of new infections nor the fact that the number HIV/AIDS deaths rose last year by some 11 000 deaths after several years of steady decline.

We simply cannot declare victory at this stage against a disease that still affects some 11.2% of our population and some 20% of all women in their reproductive years.

On World AIDS Day we should consider the enormous impact that the disease has had on our society – and continues to have every day of the year on the lives of millions of South Africans. We should remind ourselves of the need to redouble our efforts to combat the disease. We must never forget that each and every death is a tragedy for the victims and for the friends, families and particularly the children that they leave behind. We need a major monument and centre of memory to remind us about the devastation that AIDS has caused – not only on 1 December every year – but on each and every day of the year – because on each and every day of the year some 300 South Africans will continue to die of this terrible disease.

[SA HIV/AIDS statistics: Stats SA’s 2015 Mid-Year Population Estimates]

Issued by the FW de Klerk Foundation