Despite having made considerable strides in the response to HIV and AIDS resulting from a robust and well-informed response, South Africa continues to exhibit high levels of infections in comparison with counterparts the world over. Of particular concern is the high rate of infection among girls and young women aged 15-24. Girls and young women aged 15-24 make up 9.6% of South Africa’s population. Although HIV prevalence is declining in this vulnerable group, the pace of decline has been slower than anticipated.
In 2005, 15.9% of girls and young women under 20 years of age attending antenatal clinics in South Africa were HIV positive. Seven years later, in 2012, antenatal HIV prevalence in this age group had declined to 12.4% %. In the 20-24 year age group, antenatal HIV prevalence declined from 30.6% to 24.2%.
At population level in 2005, HIV prevalence among girls and young women aged 15-19 was 9.4%, and in 2012, the prevalence level had declined to 5.6%. Among young women aged 20-24, HIV prevalence was 23.9%, declining to 17.4% in 2012.
An important distinguishing feature of HIV prevalence in the 15-24 year age group is the difference in prevalence between males and females. HIV prevalence among females aged 15-19 in 2005 was nearly three times higher among males in the same age group (3.2% vs 9.4%) and this variation was eight times higher in 2012 (0.7% vs 5.6%). Differences in HIV prevalence are around three to four times higher for females aged 20-24 in comparison to males in the same age group.
Incidence modelling by Johnson (2015) show that each week in South Africa it is estimated that there are 1744 new HIV infections in young women and girls aged 15-24 years. In response to these figures, the Deputy President announced in his World AIDS Day 2015 speech that government will launch a national campaign focusing on young women and girls with specific reference to significantly reducing HIV infection and teenage pregnancies. The National Plan and campaign is currently under development by a multi-sectoral team and will be launched in April 2016.