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Publication date: 
June 5, 2020


The 16 Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) countries remain the epicentre of the HIV/AIDS epidemic with the largest number of people living with HIV/AIDS. Anti-retroviral treatment (ART) has improved survival and prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) of HIV, but the disease remains a serious cause of mortality. We conducted a descriptive epidemiological analysis of HIV/AIDS burden for the 16 SADC countries using secondary data from the Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries and Risk Factor (GBD) Study.


The GBD study is a systematic, scientific effort by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) to quantify the comparative magnitude of health loss due to diseases, injuries, and risk factors by age, sex, and geographies for specific points in time. We analyzed the following outcomes: mortality, years of life lost (YLLs), years lived with disability (YLDs), and disability-adjusted life-years (DALYs) due to HIV/AIDS for SADC. Input data for GBD was extracted from censuses, household surveys, civil registration and vital statistics, disease registries, health service utilisation, disease notifications, and other sources. Country- and cause-specific HIV/AIDS-related death rates were calculated using the Cause of Death Ensemble model (CODEm) and spatiotemporal Gaussian process regression (ST-GPR). Deaths were multiplied by standard life expectancy at each age-group to calculate YLLs. Cause-specific mortality was estimated using a Bayesian meta-regression modelling tool, DisMod-MR. Prevalence estimates were multiplied by disability weights for mutually exclusive sequelae of diseases to calculate YLDs. Crude and age-adjusted rates per 100,000 population and changes between 1990 and 2017 were determined for each country.


In 2017, HIV/AIDS caused 336,175 deaths overall in SADC countries, and more than 20 million DALYs. This corresponds to a 3-fold increase from 113,631 deaths (6,915,170 DALYs) in 1990. The five leading countries with the proportion of deaths attributable to HIV/AIDS in 2017 were Botswana at the top with 28.7% (95% UI; 23.7–35.2), followed by South Africa 28.5% (25.8–31.6), Lesotho, 25.1% (21.2–30.4), eSwatini 24.8% (21.3–28.6), and Mozambique 24.2% (20.6–29.3). The five countries had relative attributable deaths that were at least 14 times greater than the global burden of 1.7% (1.6–1.8). Similar patterns were observed with YLDs, YLLs, and DALYs. Comoros, Seychelles and Mauritius were on the lower end, with attributable proportions less than 1%, below the global proportion.


Great progress in reducing HIV/AIDS burden has been achieved since the peak but more needs to be done. The post-2005 decline is attributed to PMTCT of HIV, resources provided through the US President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), and behavioural change. The five countries with the highest burden of HIV/AIDS as measured by proportion of death attributed to HIV/AIDS and age-standardized mortaility rate were Botswana, South Africa, Lesotho, eSwatini, and Mozambique. SADC countries should cooperate, work with donors, and embrace the UN Fast-Track approach, which calls for frontloading investment from domestic or other sources to prevent and treat HIV/AIDS. Robust tracking, testing, and early treatment are required, as well as refinement of individual treatment strategies for transient individuals in the region.


Gona PN, Gona CM, Ballout S, Rao SR, Kimokoti R, Mapoma CC, Mokdad AH. Burden and changes in HIV/AIDS morbidity and mortality in Southern Africa Development Community Countries, 1990–2017. BMC Public Health. 5 June 2020. doi:10.1186/s12889-020-08988-9.