'Stunning' 10% rise in rates of life expectancy

Wed, Jan 2, 2013, 00:00

South Africa’s decision to roll out the world’s largest HIV/Aids drug treatment programme in 2009 has increased life expectancy by 10 per cent among people suffering from the disease, according to scientists.

The research findings published in the prestigious The Lancet journal recently were described by the report’s co-author, Prof Salim Abdool Karim, as “absolutely stunning” and something rarely witnessed in the real world.

“Three years ago, we had a doom-and-gloom situation where all our data showed we were moving in the wrong direction.

This increase in life expectancy, in which each of the over 50 million people will live an extra six years on average, will be of amazing benefit to society,”

Abdool Karim said as part of an expert panel’s review of the state of South Africa’s health.

The director of the Centre for the Aids Programme of Research in South Africa went on to say increases in life expectancy like those recorded in South Africa, which rose from 54 years in 2009 to 60 in 2011, were usually seen only after major societal shifts, like the abolition of slavery.

Africa’s biggest economy is home to six million HIV/Aids sufferers, but under South African President Jacob Zuma’s predecessor, Thabo Mbeki, the government was slow to provide the life-prolonging drugs to the millions that needed it.

However, Zuma changed the government’s approach when he came to power in 2009.

He increased the number of South Africans on ARVs to nearly 1.9 million people through his government’s mass rollout of its ARV programme, compared with the 133,000 availing of the drugs in 2005.

A reduction in the cost of ARV drugs following a public campaign to force international drug companies to do so was also a factor that supported the mass rollout in South Africa.