JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- South Africa's AIDS epidemic is exacting a deadly toll on South Africa's children, with greater numbers infected with HIV than was previously thought, according to a survey released Thursday.
The survey found that 5.6 percent of children ages 2 to 14 were HIV-positive and that 13 percent of children in this age bracket had lost one or both of their parents to AIDS.
The study was commissioned by a foundation started by former South African President Nelson Mandela and carried out by the Human Sciences Research Council.
The council's chief executive, Mark Orkin, said it provides "the most systematic and comprehensive view yet available of how HIV/AIDS is affecting South Africans according to race, gender, age and geographical location."
"This is a serious and urgent problem," said Mandela, who has been a leading campaigner in the fight against AIDS since leaving office in 1999. "Without children, there can be no nation, there can be no future leaders of our country."
The study is based on saliva samples from 8,428 volunteers over the age of 2 nationwide. Of these, 12.8 percent of females and 9.5 percent of males tested positive for HIV.
The virus' prevalence was highest among black South Africans, with 12.9 percent of those tested HIV-positive, compared to 6.2 percent of whites.
Previous government estimates, based on a study of pregnant women at prenatal clinics in 2000, indicated that about 4.7 million people, or 11.1 percent of the total population, were infected with HIV.
The study released Thursday found that 11.4 percent of the population over the age of 2 -- 4.5 million people -- were HIV-positive.
HIV prevalence in the 15-49 age bracket was found to be 15.6 percent, lower than United Nations and government estimates of 20.1 percent. But infection rates among children were found to be significantly higher.
Walking slowly with a cane, Mandela, 84, received a standing ovation as he entered a convention center in the northern Johannesburg suburb of Sandton to receive the survey results.
Mandela also announced that his foundation would contribute almost $1 million to an initiative to provide AIDS drugs to 9,000 poor South Africans. ------
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Human Sciences Research Council study: www.hsrc.ac.za