World AIDS Day 2018

Posted by Martin Keat

When the Bishop Simeon Trust was first founded in the late 1980s the challenges facing children and their families in South Africa were very different. The brutality of the Apartheid system limited the life choices and opportunities available to children in the townships. This was why Bishop Simeon Nkoane set out our founding vision – to assure that children were enabled to become the educated leadership South Africa would need for the future.

Over the years the Bishop Simeon Trust has been fortunate to witness the transformation of South Africa into a free and open democracy. However, over this same time the HIV / AIDS epidemic has had a devastating impact on those same communities emerging from the suffering imposed on them by the conquered Apartheid system.

In 1981 there were an estimated 2,000 HIV+ people in South Africa, but by the time Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990 this figure had risen to 100,000 and by the year 2000 over 4 million people were HIV+. Today it is estimated that 7.5 million people are HIV+ in South Africa – 13% of the population.

There has been a concerted campaign across South Africa to prevent new infections, largely funded by South Africa itself. 10 million people are tested each year and 90% of people living with HIV are aware of their status. New infection rates peaked in 1998, with around 720,000 people contracting HIV each year. This has now fallen to 270,000 new infections a year – 750 every day.

Sadly, this has not prevented AIDS related deaths in South Africa. In 2006 around 390,000 people died from AIDS related illnesses. With massive investment in testing and distribution of anti-retroviral drugs today many people can live with HIV – around 4.2 million people – and annual HIV related deaths have fallen to 110,000. As admirable as this is it still means that 3.3 million receive no treatment.

AIDS is such a cruel disease which targets the poor and the young. HIV prevalence among young women in South Africa is nearly four times greater than that of men their age. Young women between the ages of 15 and 24 make up 37% of new infections. The low status of women is also influential - gender based violence being attributed to an estimated 20-25% of new HIV infections in young women.

This impact on younger people means that AIDS has a disproportionate impact on people at parental age. This has resulted in more than 2 million children being orphaned by HIV and AIDS. These children are then particularly vulnerable to HIV because of economic and social insecurity. They are also more likely to drop out of school, limiting their access to education and awareness that could reduce their likelihood of infection. Recent studies suggest that only 59% of young people in South Africa have comprehensive knowledge of how to prevent HIV infection.   

Although there has been progress in the fight against AIDS in South Africa there remains so much work to be done. The work of the Bishop Simeon Trust is part of this fight. We believe that by helping provide support, counselling and advice to children and young people we can help them to mitigate the impact of AIDS on their lives. We believe that Safe Parks can provide a space where they can learn how to prevent HIV infection, as well as develop youth led campaigns which can help their peers and communities to prevent new infections and reduce the stigma associated with being HIV+.

On World AIDS Day 2018, the 30th anniversary of this international day, we stand with those people who live with HIV, the families and children of those who have succumbed to AIDS and all those other organisations who are fighting against HIV/AIDS. Together we can end the cycle of suffering it causes and the disproportionate effect this has on children. We hope that you will join us in this.

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A big part of our work here at the Bishop Simeon trust is committed to assuring that children and young adults in South Africa are able to challenge and conquer those obstacles in their lives that prevent them from accessing education and assuring that they can  make the most of the potential they possess to thrive and build a positive future.