Economist Examines South Africa’s AIDS Policies
With South Africa "at last" conducting campaigns to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS, the Economist examines how the government has handled the epidemic from the first known case in 1987 to the present, as government officials are increasing the amount of public funds to stop the spread of the disease. Stating that the country has been "in denial" about HIV/AIDS, the Economist notes that one official in the "international war against AIDS" said that South Africa is "the most difficult country that we have to deal with anywhere." While the rate of infection was less than 1% in 1990, the Economist says that the "attitude" of the government and the "mystery" surrounding sex in South Africa has contributed to an infection rate that is "probably well above 10%" today. AIDS has spread quickly in South Africa because men and women "tend" to have many sexual partners, malnutrition is common and STDs are prevalent. In addition, a "catalogue of blunders" from the government, including multiple rejections of offers from drug companies to provide discounted antiretroviral drugs and President Thabo Mbeki's public denials that HIV causes AIDS, has had "disastrous effects" on efforts to curb the spread of the disease.
Impact on South African Life
The Economist reports that the government's failure to take action on the disease will touch all aspects of life in South Africa. Deaths attributable to AIDS may reach 635,000 by 2010, as the average life expectancy is "set" to drop from 60 years to 40 years by 2008. This high number of deaths will contribute to an increase in the number of orphans, about two million by 2010, many of whom may be HIV-positive at birth. This will have a direct impact on the nation's public health care system, the Economist predicts, as public health care costs are expected to reach 38 billion rand by 2010. While treating all AIDS patients will be "out of the question" due to the large number of infected people, the system will be required to care for patients in their "dying days." The private insurance industry is being affected as well, as premiums are rising, and the industry is required by law to insure "all who apply." Other aspects of the economy will be affected by AIDS-related deaths, as worker productivity will fall, the Economist reports. Some companies expect to lose between 40% to 50% of their workforce by 2010, and insurance costs are expected to double, "if not triple."
In spite of past problems with AIDS policy, the Economist states that the South African government has "at last got the message." The government has launched "various campaigns" to prevent the spread of HIV and "deal with its consequences." While there is still a "terrible stigma" surrounding AIDS and a shortage of condoms in the country, the Economist notes that the government is publicly acknowledging that HIV causes AIDS and is distributing the antiretroviral drug nevirapine to prevent vertical transmission. However, the Economist concludes, "[F]or many years thousands of South African who might have lived long and productive lives will be dying because of irresponsible policies of a culpably misguided government" (Economist, 2/24).