HIV Infection among South African Young Women on the Rise

South Africa has about 7 million people living with HIV and manages the globe’s largest antiretroviral program, keeping about 4 million people alive with the drugs. At the South African National AIDS Conference in Johannesburg recently, specialists voiced their concern about the spiking rates of infections among young women,
a trend reflected throughout the continent.
“What does it tell you about the lack of knowledge about HIV, 20, 30 years into the HIV epidemic?” said Mark Heywood, the director of the Section 27 social justice movement. “We have seen, shockingly, a decline in knowledge of HIV amongst young people. It is like we have taken our foot off the accelerator, in certain respects.”
Heywood says more than 200 young women, ages 15 to 24, are infected with HIV each day in South Africa.
Community health care worker Brown Lekekela stands outside a tavern in a township in South Africa, where young women often meet older men with whom they have dangerous “transactional” sexual relationships.
In 2015, that demographic accounted for the largest segment of new HIV infections in South Africa and a disproportionate number of new cases in the region. Adolescent and young women made up a quarter of the new cases in sub-Saharan Africa, according to UNAIDS recent global report.
UNAIDS says adolescent and young women in Africa are at “particularly high risk” for a variety of reasons, such as poverty, lack of education and violence.
Like Sathekge, many poor young women in South Africa have “transactional” sexual relationships with older men who have jobs and money. The men buy them food, clothes and gifts.
Health care workers in South Africa say transactional sex is a key driver of the new infections among young women in the country.

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