New Aids figures a 'disaster' for SA

More than 6,2-million South Africans were infected by HIV or Aids by last year, an increase of 700 000 from 2003, a new health ministry report said.

Though women in their mid- to late-20s were the hardest hit by the pandemic, “it was observed that there have been increases in prevalence across all age groups between 2003 and 2004”, the report said.

The findings of the annual survey cast doubt over other statistics on HIV and Aids by government’s official supplier Statistics South Africa (StatsSA) on the country’s most pressing health challenge, with a difference of more than 1,5-million.

The annual survey based on blood samples from more than 16 000 pregnant women nationwide showed that between 6,29-million and 6,57-million people were living with Aids or HIV in the country of 47-million.

Nearly 40% of women aged between 25 and 29 years are HIV positive while women in their early 20s and early 30s show prevalence rates of around 30%, it added.

“Higher rates of increase between 2003 and 2004 are observed among women aged from 25 to 34 years,” the report said. “This age group is also associated with higher fertility and the time when the majority of women begin to have children.”

South Africa has one of the world’s biggest HIV/Aids caseloads with the UN Aids agency estimating in 2003 that 5,3-million people were infected, or one in five adults living with the HIV virus or full-blown Aids.

Based on its latest survey, the health ministry said 29,5% of pregnant women attending government clinics last year were HIV positive, up from 27,9% in 2003 and 26,5% in 2002.

“This suggests that although HIV prevalence has tended towards stabilisation in recent years, there is still a minor increase,” it added.

But health ministry spokesperson Sibani Mngadi said the government was “definitely worried that there has been such an increase”.

“We need to see how we are going to address this,” he said, adding that the government had scaled up its HIV/Aids budget by 45% and increased the number of treatment sites for anti-retrovirals to 143 nationwide.

South Africa’s most influential HIV/Aids lobby group, the Treatment Action Campaign, described that latest figures as a “disaster” and called for an urgent meeting of all parties to try to stop new infections.

“It really is a disaster when we are now talking about 6,5-million people with HIV infection,” said TAC spokesperson Mark Heywood.

“This is an indictment of the whole of South African society: government, business, trade unions, ourselves…”

The total was far higher than the estimate of 4,5-million given by StatsSA.

Health spokesperson Mngadi attributed the discrepancy in government figures to a “difference in methodology used by the Health Department and StatsSA”. - Sapa-AFP


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