1 December has been commemorated annually as World Aids Day since 1988. It is intended to focus international attention on the continuing threat of HIV, to mobilise support for people living with HIV and to commemorate those who have died from AIDS-related illnesses.

The day is particularly relevant to South Africa. Despite the fact that HIV/AIDS is no longer an unavoidable death sentence – because of the widespread roll-out of Antiretroviral Treatment (ART) – it remains a deadly threat and still represents one of the country’s most serious health challenges. 8,2 million South Africans still live with HIV and last year there were 210 000 new infections. Tragically, 85 800 people died of HIV/AIDS in 2021. In fact, in 2020-21 while South Africa was mobilised and locked-down against COVID-19, far more people continued to die of AIDS (168 800) than the number of people who died as a result of COVID-19 (102 428).

Measured by the number of deaths, HIV/AIDS is the greatest human tragedy that has ever afflicted the people of South Africa. Since the late 1980s it has killed an estimated 4,5 – 5 million South Africans – more people than the total population of Cape Town. It has brought immense sorrow and disruption to the lives of the many more millions of South Africans who belonged to the families of the victims.

On World AIDS Day we should remember all these people. We should ask why there is not some national monument to them – some place where we can commemorate, grieve and show our respect for all these fellow South Africans? We should remind ourselves of the continuing deadly threat that HIV/AIDS poses to our people – and of the need to combat the virus with all our national resources. We should also remember the role of the Treatment Action Campaign and our Constitution in ensuring that those suffering from the virus would have access to Antiretroviral Treatment. Without the TAC and the Constitution many more millions might have died.