AIDS Leading Cause of Death in South African Women; Proportion of Deaths Due to AIDS Doubles in Five-Year Period
AIDS-related illnesses are now the leading cause of death among South African women ages 15 to 39, accounting for nearly 10% of deaths among South African women, according to new figures released by Statistics South Africa, SABCNews.com reports. In addition, the proportion of South African deaths due to AIDS-related causes almost doubled from 4.6% in 1997 to 8.7% in 2001 (Lang, SABCNews.com, 11/21). The South African Cabinet commissioned the report following last year's Medical Research Council report that indicated that 40% of all deaths among South Africans ages 15 to 49 were due to AIDS-related causes. Statistics South Africa "repudiated" MRC's findings, and South African President Thabo Mbeki said deaths due to AIDS-related causes were "being exaggerated," according to the South African Press Association. David Bourne, an MRC consultant, said that the SSA and MRC reports are not necessarily inconsistent because "[m]easuring mortality because of AIDS will always be an inexact science." He added, "The results of both reports are in line with broad trends emerging. HIV as an underlying cause of death is certainly rising and is predominant among the young." In addition, Bourne said that the MRC "went further" in their study than SSA by "modeling" findings based on information already known about HIV/AIDS. He added that many deaths attributed to influenza or other illnesses were likely caused by AIDS. In response to the SSA report, South African health officials indicated that the country needs to "step up" its fight against HIV/AIDS, according to SAPA (South African Press Association, 11/21).
South African Prison Gangs Intentionally Infecting Inmates With HIV
In related news, gangs in South African prisons have begun using HIV infection as punishment for "disobedient inmates," ordering HIV-positive members to rape the inmates, according to a spokesperson for the Judicial Inspectorate of Prisons in South Africa, Reuters Health reports. Gideon Morris, director of the inspectorate, said that the ritual is a "new phenomenon" discovered in prisons approximately six months ago. Morris' testimony regarding the HIV rape ritual, referred to as "slow puncture," has been put before the Jail Commission, an inquiry board set up last year to investigate allegations of corruption and mismanagement in South Africa's prisons. Russel Mamabolo, spokesperson for the Department of Corrections, said that the department would wait to hear the commission's findings before investigating the allegations (Reuters Health, 11/21). Following the allegations of intentional HIV infection in prisons, South Africa's Democratic Alliance party called on the government to provide antiretroviral drugs to all prisons. Mike Ellis, DA spokesperson, said that the drugs are necessary to slow the spread of HIV among prison populations and should be available "at the very least" to those prisoners who are raped (South African Press Association, 11/21).
South African World Bank Leader Criticizes Nation's AIDS Fight
Also in South Africa, Mamphele Ramphele, World Bank managing director and a South African physician, called the HIV/AIDS epidemic in South Africa a "tragedy" that would "rob the country of its international credibility," according to Reuters. She added that other nations could not "take [South Africa] seriously" if its leaders did not address the epidemic, which is the country's "fundamental challenge to ... development." She said that countries smaller than South Africa have "done so much better" fighting HIV/AIDS, adding that the nation's inadequate AIDS policies put "a really serious dent in the reputation of our country." She concluded, "All of us are going to suffer because of HIV/AIDS. Even if we don't have [the disease], it is eating away at our potential to grow as an economy, eating away at the fabric of our society." Approximately one in nine South Africans has HIV, and 12 million South African children have lost one or both parents to AIDS-related causes (Boyle, Reuters, 11/21).