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Public Health

Today, a little more than 1 in 10 South Africans are living with HIV, or about 11.2 percent of the estimated 54.95 million people in the country. Yet South Africa has made progress in its fight against HIV/AIDS due to the rapid expansion of the use of antiretroviral drugs. The number of deaths in the country that were AIDS related has dropped significantly— from 51 percent in 2005 to 31 percent in 2015. In addition, infection rates for 15- to 49 year olds have also been decreasing. As a result of the progress made against HIV/AIDS, life expectancy has risen to 62 years, after falling to a low of 53 years in 1992.24


The government has continued to extend physical infrastructure— water, sanitation, housing, electricity, and communication—to many South Africans, accounting for 60 percent of government spending in 2014.25 The percentage of South Africans receiving housing subsidies rose from 10.1 percent in 2010 to 15.3 percent in 2014, and the number of households with electricity increased from 82 percent in 2010 to 86 percent in 2014. The number of South Africans with access to modern sanitation has also grown significantly.26

In addition, the government has spent much more on social services since 2009. Two-thirds of the elderly receive grants, and the number of grants for the elderly and disabled has held steady. Meanwhile, the number of grants for childcare increased from 10 million in 2009 to 12 million in 2014, reflecting the country’s relatively young population.

All in all, however, despite some undeniable progress, the economic and social conditions of South Africa several decades after the end of apartheid remain cause for concern. During a speech to Parliament last year, Pravin Gordhan, South Africa’s finance minister, spoke of the need to cut government spending to reduce the deficit. He also announced tax increases in certain areas and predicted the nation’s growth rate would drop from 1.7 percent to 0.09 percent. And he acknowledged continuing challenges: corruption in the system, high unemployment, and widespread poverty. Indeed, before the speech, he warned, “There is no doubt about the fact that we are in crisis.”27

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