South Africa is hard at work to meet its target of zero new HIV infections by the year 2030.

Currently, about seven million people are living with HIV and AIDS in South Africa and 50 per cent of them are receiving anti-retroviral (ARV) treatment.

The target of no new infections by 2030 is set in the National Development Plan (NDP) and is one that the health sector, in partnership with various stakeholders and South Africans at large, is pushing to achieve before the deadline.

South Africa recently adopted the “test and treat” protocol, where anyone who gets a positive diagnosis can start ARV treatment. This is a significant step for the country, as it aims to increase life expectancy to at least 70 years by 2030.

The NDP, South Africa’s development blueprint, also recommends that provision be made for high-risk HIV-negative people, something which government has since got off the ground.

Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, in his capacity as the South African National AIDS Council (SANAC) chairperson, last year announced that the government would facilitate the provision of the pre-exposure pill to sex works in South Africa. Already there are about 400 who are enrolled to get the pill. Men who have sex with other men will also be given the pill.

Individuals who fall in the vulnerable groups — sex workers, gay people and transgender people — can take the pill once a day to reduce their risk of getting infected with HIV. The pill is pharmaceutically-registered and is available over the counter at leading pharmacies across the country.

However, the NDP notes that even if there are no new infections of HIV, there will still be a sizeable number of HIV-positive people requiring treatment, presenting a continuous challenge for the tuberculosis infection rate and the risk of drug-resistant HIV strains developing.

Despite the gains made, the epidemic and its implications for public policy are likely to persist for at least another generation, possibly two.

In 2015, an estimated 266,000 South Africans became infected with HIV. Each week, there are about 2,000 new HIV infections in adolescent girls and young women aged 15 to 24 years.