HIV Rate Among South Africans Lower Than Previous Estimates, But Higher Among Children
Approximately 4.5 million people in South Africa ages two and older, or 11.4% of the population, are HIV-positive, a number slightly lower than previous estimates, according to a study released on Thursday, Reuters Health reports. Researchers from the Nelson Mandela Foundation and Children's Fund and the South African Human Sciences Research Council compiled information from HIV tests results and interviews with more than 8,000 people. The study found that 9.3% of South Africans between ages 15 and 24 have HIV, a percentage below the national average. However, the study also found that 5.6% of children ages two to 14 are HIV-positive, more than could be explained by mother-to-child transmission or reported sexual activity, according to Olive Shisana, the report's principal investigator (Thomson, Reuters Health, 12/5). The rate among children is higher than was previously believed. Mandela said, "This is a serious and urgent problem. Without children, there can be no nation, there can be no future leaders of our country" (Venter, AP/Chicago Tribune, 12/6). Shisana said researchers will now investigate sexual abuse and exposure to unsterilized needles as possible factors that contribute to HIV transmission among children.
Demand for Antiretroviral Drugs
The researchers also found "strong public demand" for more resources in the fight against HIV/AIDS, especially antiretroviral drugs. "The government should roll out an [antiretroviral] therapy program for both preventing mother-to-child transmission and (for) all persons living with AIDS as soon as possible," the report said (Reuters Health, 12/5). The Nelson Mandela Foundation and the South African Medical Association on Tuesday launched a program designed to provide free antiretroviral therapy to 9,000 patients at 18 sites throughout South Africa (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 12/5). Shisana said, "We are hopeful (because) the majority of South Africans are taking HIV seriously ... we will see a decline in HIV infections " (Reuters Health, 12/5).