Aids crisis: Mandela reveals some good news

Former president Nelson Mandela said on Thursday that while South Africa was in the midst of a serious Aids epidemic, a study he commissioned on HIV prevalence showed changing sexual practices, especially amongst the youth.

“Although the report carefully analyses the situation, it also leaves us with hope that in the end we will win the war against Aids,” Mandela said at the launch of the first ever nationally representative study on HIV/Aids.

Mandela, who on behalf of his foundation asked the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) to conduct the study, said South Africa had recently made major strides in prevention and that people were finally internalising the safe sex message.

The Mandela-HSRC study found that over the past four years, many South Africans were practising safer sex, with 57,1% of men in the 15-24 age group reporting that they used condoms in their last sexual encounter.

The study also found that 46,1% of women in the same age group reported condom use the last time they had sex and investigators were told by over 90 percent of people that they knew where to get free condoms if they needed them.

Interestingly, the study found the highest condom use reported amongst Africans—the group hardest hit by the Aids pandemic.

According to the study, 12,9% of Africans were infected compared with 6,2% and 6,1% amongst whites and coloureds. The prevalence figure for the Indian community was the lowest at 1,6% while overall a total of 4,5 million (11,4%) South Africans were living with HIV/Aids.

Mandela, who along with the South African Medical Association recently launched a treatment programme to provide free antiretrovirals (ARVs) at 18 sites, pledged another R10-million on Thursday to the initiative on behalf of his foundation.

He said the study found massive public support—between 96,5% and 95% respectively—for the provision of ARVs to prevent mother-to-child transmission and for the treatment of people living with HIV/Aids.

In April this year, government announced it would provide treatment to HIV-positive pregnant mothers and victims of sexual assault. It also recently announced it had set up a joint committee to determine the cost of providing ARVs to the poor.

While the Mandela-HSRC study found people generally perceived the government to be committed to dealing with Aids, most felt it was not allocating enough resources to fighting the disease.

The study was handed to the presidency, the health department and other government departments before its release.

Mandela said although South Africa had made strides in prevention, the millions living with HIV/Aids that needed both ARVs as well as financial and social care and support.

He said the challenge now was to use the information gained in the study as a plan for action.

“Both my foundation and the children’s fund are committed to making a difference to the lives of adults and children living with the consequences of HIV/Aids.
Information cannot become an excuse for inaction and delay. We must translate information into action,” he said.

The study was based on a sample of 9 963 people drawn from households across the country, 8 428 of whom consented to being tested for HIV and submitted saliva specimens.

Two hundred field workers collected the data for the study but people in institutions such as prisons, boarding schools and military barracks were not included in the sample.

The HSRC collaborated with the Medical Research Council, the Centre for Aids Development, Research and Evaluation and a French research agency. - Sapa