Report: AIDS infection rates stabilizing in South Africa

Saturday, July 22, 2006

CAPE TOWN, South Africa -- The AIDS infection rate among pregnant women in South Africa stayed at about 30 percent last year, according to a government report Friday that said the infection rate was stabilizing.

"This is encouraging to note, but a great deal of work still needs to be done to ensure that new infections no longer take place at all in South Africa," Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang said in his department's report.

The survey, conducted in October 2005, estimated that 5.5 million South Africans are living with HIV. The country has the highest number of people infected with the virus worldwide, accounting for more than one eighth of estimated cases.

Botswana has the world's highest HIV/AIDS infection rate, and a child born today can expect to live less than 30 years.

The South African government, often accused of not doing enough to fight the disease, has stepped up its care and treatment program, which recently became the largest in the world.

President Thabo Mbeki used to question the link between HIV and AIDS and the health minister, in particular, has drawn the wrath of health activists for preaching the benefits of garlic and beetroot rather than antiretroviral drugs.

But the survey said there were finally grounds for hope that new infections had peaked.

An estimated 15.9 percent of teenagers had HIV in 2005, down from 16.1 percent the previous year.

"This might imply a sustained change in behavior among young people, including engaging in safer sexual practices such as being in mutually faithful relationships," the report said.

Overall, an estimated 18.8 percent of people aged 15 to 49 were infected -- or 4.9 million people. An estimated 235,000 children under 14 carried the virus, usually as a result of being infected by their mothers, the report said.

Testing at clinics showed that 30.2 percent of pregnant women were infected with the virus, up slightly from 29.5 percent in 2004.

More than 16,500 women were tested according to norms established by the World Health Organization and UNAIDS to ensure that national results are comparable.

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