HIV drugs 'boost South African life expectancy'

Members of the South African Health Ministry chat on April 8, 2013 during the launch of the new single dose anti-AIDs drug at Phedisong clinic in Ga-Rankuwa, 100 kms North of Johannesburg. South Africa's Aids programme has been hailed as a model for HIV treatment

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Life expectancy in South Africa has increased dramatically over the last decade, mainly thanks to life-saving Aids drugs, a government report says.

South Africans are living on average up to 61.2 years compared to 52.2 years nearly 10 years ago, the figures show.

"The life expectancy is expected to keep improving because of improving medical science methods," the head of the national statistics agency said.

South Africa runs the world's largest anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs programme.

The country's population now stands at a little more than 54 million, Statistics South Africa said in its annual demographics report.

A patient receiving ARVs in South Africa - 2008 Some 2.5 million South Africans are now taking ARVs

"For 2014, life expectancy at birth is estimated at 59.1 years for males and 63.1 years for females," it said.

Statistics South Africa attributed the change to two main trends: More people being on ARV drugs and a decrease in the infant mortality rate.

"The ability for people who are HIV positive to access ARVs is the cause of the increase in life expectancy," Pali Lehohla, the agency's statistician general, told the BBC.

Under the presidency of Thabo Mbeki, South Africa refused to roll out the anti-Aids medication, citing costs.

When he left office in 2008, about 680,000 people were receiving HIV treatment. Now South Africa's anti-retroviral programme serves 2.5 million people.

Statistics South Africa estimates that 10.2% of the population is HIV-positive.

Part of the country's strategy in fighting Aids is to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV as well as early detection and treatment, which Statistics South Africa says has yielded some results.

"The infant mortality rate has fallen from an estimated 58 infant deaths per 1,000 live births in 2002 to 34 infant deaths per 1,000 live births in 2014," the report says.

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