“Study Cites Toll of AIDS Policy in South Africa” was the front-page headline of The New York Times on November 25th. “A new study by Harvard researchers estimates that the South African government would have prevented the premature deaths of 365,000 people earlier this decade if it had provided antiretroviral drugs to AIDS patients and widely administered drugs to help prevent pregnant women from infecting their babies.”
The paper that garnered international attention, “Estimating the Lost Benefits of Antiretroviral Drug Use in South Africa,” is the first peer-reviewed quantitative analysis of lives lost in South Africa due to the AIDS policy of President Thabo Mbeki, who resigned his office in September 2008.
The lead author, Dr. Pride Chigwedere, earned his doctoral degree from the Harvard School of Public Health, graduating in June 2008. He came to HSPH from Zimbabwe, where he was a practicing physician treating AIDS patients.
More than 330,000 lives were lost to HIV/AIDS in South Africa from 2000 and 2005 because a feasible and timely antiretroviral (ARV) treatment program was not implemented. In addition, an estimated 35,000 babies were born with HIV during that same period in the country because a feasible mother-to-child transmission prophylaxis program using nevirapine (an anti-AIDS drug) was not implemented.
The authors estimated that by 2005, South Africa could have been helping half of those in need but had reached only 23 percent. By comparison, Botswana was already providing treatment to 85 percent of those in need.