The recent announcement by Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe that new HIV infections in South Africa have fallen by almost a third since 2004 reflects the positive strides being made in the healthcare industry to ensure more people stay healthy and to reduce costs in the industry.

According to Graham Anderson, Principal Officer at Profmed, the medical scheme catering exclusively to graduate professionals, healthcare costs in South Africa have risen substantially over the last few years as a result of an increase in lifestyle diseases such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes. “With a continued rise in other diseases, it is very welcome news that one of the biggest healthcare problems that we currently face in South Africa is now on the decrease.”

Statistics released by UNAIDS, estimate that the number of new infections has decreased from 540 000 to 370 000, which equates to a 30% decline.

Anderson notes that the decline in new infection rates is due in part to Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi’s efforts to deliver sustained and effective HIV prevention campaigns. “It is also important to note that while the rate of new infections is decreasing, the rollout of advanced ARV medication, which makes management of those already infected with the virus easier as patients only have to take one pill, is improving the lives of those who have already contracted the disease.

“As Government continues to roll-out this programme, we are confident that both fatality and infection rates will be vastly improved. It is estimated that between 2004 and 2012, 780 000 deaths have been avoided as a result of effective treatment, thereby giving people a better chance at life,” says Anderson.

“We would encourage every South African to be tested for the disease at least once a year and for those who are already infected to manage their disease effectively through a healthy lifestyle,” says Anderson.

He stresses that preventative healthcare practices do not only extend to HIV testing but also to other lifestyle diseases and are crucial to managing and reducing healthcare costs.

“Preventative healthcare such as annual screenings, which includes HIV testing, will enable people to detect problems earlier, thereby dramatically reducing the burden on the healthcare industry which could ultimately result in lower contributions having to be paid by members for medical scheme cover,” he says.

In addition to HIV testing and counselling, these screenings also include annual pap smears and mammogram examinations for women to detect cervical or breast cancer and prostate examinations for men. Furthermore, problems detected by cholesterol and glucose tests, if picked up early, can assist in preventing life threatening or chronic conditions that require continuous medical attention.

“HIV is one of the biggest healthcare burdens that South Africa has ever faced, so we welcome the news that the country’s new infection rate has fallen. It is crucial that measures to combat HIV, such as effective campaigns and advanced ARVs, continue to be rolled out, in conjunction with education about the health benefits of living a balanced lifestyle, which not only improves the lives of HIV patients but also those who may be at risk of contracting certain lifestyle diseases,” concludes Anderson.

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