(photo: Local staff and interns at VVOCF in Zonkizizwe)
The first case of AIDS was diagnosed in South Africa in 1982 among the gay community (47). The apartheid government took minimal actions in response to the virus’ coming. This could be in part due to the violent political turmoil as well as discrimination against the gay community. In 1986 the AIDS Advisory Group was established to respond to the epidemic (48), but nothing of significance can be associated with the Group. HIV/AIDS quickly spread to the heterosexual populations and by 1990 antenatal tests showed that up to 120,000 people were living with HIV/AIDS (49).
It wasn’t until after apartheid laws were repealed that a government response was crafted. In 1992, the same year that a referendum was held on apartheid policies, Nelson Mandela addressed the National AIDS Convention of South Africa (NACOSA), which was to develop a national strategy to cope with the epidemic (50). The National Health Department reported in 1993 that HIV rates had increased by 60% in the last two years and this number was expected to double in the next year (51). This was the groundwork that apartheid had lain for the rapid spread of HIV/AIDS in the next seven years.
The period from 1993-2003 marked the freedom of mobility of more people, which was evidenced by the increase in internal labor migration patterns as well as a severe increase in HIV prevalence. Seedat’s book is rightly named “crippling a nation” because when the government was stabilized and working to develop a response to the HIV/AIDS crisis it was already too late. The HIV/AIDS crisis was poised to take its toll from the detrimental apartheid policies that limited health services, medical training, forced mass migrations of people, and established environments prone to high-risk behaviors.
During this time period, a number of government actions were meant to stem the increasing prevalence rates. In 1994, the Ministry of Health adopted its first national AIDS strategy based off of NACOSA’s work (52). Unfortunately the plan was considered inadequate, poorly planned, and disorganized. In 1995, the International Conference for People Living with HIV and AIDS was held in South Africa and then Deputy President Thabo Mbeki acknowledged the seriousness of the epidemic (53). That same year the Ministry of Health announced that 850,000 people (2.1% of the population) were living with HIV (54). In 1998, The Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) launched partly in response to the failures of the South African government to provide adequate resources to people affected by the crisis.
47. “HIV & AIDS in South Africa: The history of AIDS in South Africa.” Avert.
49. “HIV & AIDS in South Africa: The history of AIDS in South Africa.” Avert.
53. “HIV & AIDS in South Africa: The history of AIDS in South Africa.” Avert.
Coming next: Denial is the First Step