The first reported cases of HIV-1 infection in South Africa occurred in 1982. Two distinct HIV-1 epidemic patterns were recognized. Initially the infection was prevalent in white males who had sex with males. The HIV-1 clade B was associated with this group. By 1989, the second epidemic was recognized primarily in the black population. Infections in this case were mainly heterosexual in origin. The HIV-1 clade involved was mainly C. The national HIV-1 sero-prevalence in antenatal attendees was less than 1% in 1990 and by 1994 this figure had risen to 7.5%. The most recent antenatal surveillance for HIV-1 sero-prevalence in 1999 revealed the following. The national prevalence rate for 1999 was 22.4% compared with the 1998 rate of 22.8%. The data highlighted the profound effect the epidemic had and will have on the disease burden in South Africa and by extension on the social and economic fronts. This view was emphasised by the impact HIV-1 infection had on tuberculosis. For example, sentinel surveys have attributed 44% of tuberculosis cases to HIV-1 infection. Moreover, the high prevalence of sexually transmitted infections will certainly exacerbate the HIV-1 epidemic.