One million people are now on antiretroviral (ARV) treatment in South Africa, according to an announcement December 1 by South African Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, which was reported by Agence France-Presse.

South Africa has one of the highest rates of HIV infection in the world. The United Nations estimates that out of a population of 50 million, 5.6 million are living with HIV. The country went through nearly a decade of inaction on the epidemic—largely a result of then President Thabo Mbeki’s skepticism about the link between HIV and AIDS. This changed toward the end of the past decade, with the implementation of one of the largest ARV distribution programs in the world.

Deputy President Motlanthe and Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi kicked off their World AIDS Day observation by visiting the homes of households affected by the epidemic in a rural South African village. “What we are observing here is the devastation of HIV/AIDS. All four houses we visited here were headed by grandmothers who are looking after orphans,” said Motsoaledi, adding: “What is left for us is to see how we pick up the pieces.”

Picking up the pieces is something that the country has been quick to do in recent years. The country now has the highest rate of people with HIV on ARV therapy on the African continent, and in the past year it hit this new milestone.

“More than 200,000 new patients have been initiated on ARVs since April this year, bringing a total number to 1 million,” Motlanthe told a public gathering to mark World AIDS Day in the eastern province of Mpumalanga.