/ 1 August 2009

World Cup may bring jump in HIV infection rates

HIV/Aids infection rates may increase during the Soccer World Cup, the South African National Aids Council said on Friday.

”2010 is going to come with good things but it may also come with dangerous things,” Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said after a Sanac plenary meeting.

”Of course the concern is: what will be the effect of 2010, which everybody is waiting for? Are we going to find the rate of infection accelerating because of 2010?” he asked.

”I mean, we will be having lots of visitors here, we know there will be lots of visitors who come here for sex, you can’t hide that. It happens and what will be the effects on this country?”

Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, who is the Sanac chairperson, said its sport and entertainment sector would hold talks in September to examine how the sporting spectacular would be used to focus on HIV/Aids.

It would also aim to ensure the ”event itself does not result in increased transmission”, Motlanthe said.

Sanac noted that commercial sex workers were vulnerable to sexual abuse and violence, making it difficult to protect themselves from HIV infection.

”It was in this context that sectors were requested to consult on this matter with specific reference to the possibility of the decriminalisation of sex workers,” Motlanthe said.

Decriminalising sex work to protect women has been raised by various government departments ahead of the Soccer World Cup, when demand for the services of prostitutes might increase.

Sanac resolved to invite sex workers to its next plenary meeting to discuss their problems.

Motsoaledi said decriminalising sex work was a vexing issue and Sanac had not decided whether to support this.

”The issue is very emotive in terms of morals, culture. We took a decision that in the next plenary we want the sex workers to be here. They will be here to talk for themselves,” Motsoaledi said.

Motlanthe said the World Health Organisation conducted an ”external review” of the country’s tuberculosis (TB) control programme last month.

It resolved that greater integration of TB and HIV services was needed, given the high co-infection rates. There was also a need for resources for TB programmes.

While Sanac recognised that male circumcision did not provide full protection from HIV transmission, it directed the health department to find out how to expand access to voluntary male circumcision and the costs, Motlanthe said.

After the plenary Sanac deputy chairperson Mark Heywood highlighted the differences in the organisation since the departure of former health minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, whose stance of HIV/Aids was widely criticised.

In 2008, more than five million South Africans were infected with HIV. The government hopes to halve infections by 2011. – Sapa