One in Nine South Africans Living With HIV, Government Survey Shows
One in nine South Africans is HIV-positive, up from the previous estimate of one in ten, according to a new survey released yesterday by the South African government, the Associated Press reports. The study, based on a sampling of 16,000 women at 400 antenatal clinics nationwide, estimates that 4.7 million South Africans were HIV-positive at the end of 2000, compared to the previous estimate of 4.2 million. The rate of infection rose among women ages 20 to 34 and declined slightly among women under 20 and those over 35 since 1999. For women ages 20 to 24, the rate of infection increased from 25.6% to 29.1%. The rate of infection increased among women ages 25 to 29 from 26.4% to 30.6% and among women ages 30 to 34 from 21.7% to 23.3%. Infection rates among women under 20 years old decreased from 16.5% to 16.1%, a finding that was "consistent" with a previous survey that found condom use is higher among teenagers than among other age groups (Associated Press, 3/20). Although the survey reflected a decrease in infection rates among the youngest survey group, officials point out that the rates are still high and "indicat[e] [prevention] programs have not reached extremely effective levels," Dr. Bernhard Scwartlander, a senior epidemiologist with UNAIDS, said. The increases in infections among those in their twenties demonstrates that "[t]he positive behavior that women start adapting in teenaged years is not sustained," Dr. Rose Mulumba, deputy director of the public health service, said. Health officials believe women in their twenties may have a "false sense of security" about their infection risk because they are married or in long term relationships.
Reason for Optimism?
Although some infection rates increased, government officials said they were "optimistic that the epidemic might be reaching its peak" (Swarns, New York Times, 3/21). "We are no longer seeing the exponential increases of earlier years and the flattening of the curve over three years begins to suggest that the prevalence of HIV in the population may be stabilizing," Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang said (Swindells, Reuters Health, 3/20). But the announcement of the figures "dashed the hopes" of AIDS experts, who said that the numbers imply that officials were "failing to dissuade thousands of young people from engaging in risky sexual behavior" (New York Times, 3/21). Demographic experts predict that as many as six million South African will die from AIDS-related complications by the end of the decade, a toll that threatens to cut the country's gross domestic product by 17% and "wipe $22 billion off the national economy," Reuters Health reports (Reuters Health, 3/20). The percentage of infected adults rose "sharply" in the KwaZulu/Natal and Gauteng provinces (New York Times, 3/21).