Aids numbers 'extraordinarily high'

Cape Town - The number of people infected with Aids in South Africa remains "extraordinarily high", Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said on Tuesday.

Speaking at the 18th International Aids Conference in the Austrian capital, Vienna, he told delegates there were an estimated 5.5 million South Africans infected with the HIV virus, of whom over one million were now receiving treatment for the disease.

"For the past 20 years, South Africa has conducted a national prevalence survey among pregnant women who attended our public sector ante-natal clinics.

"This survey constitutes the best record of our HIV prevalence levels and shows the speed with which the epidemic has taken hold.

"In 1990, the prevalence among this group of women was a mere 0.9%. However, in 15 years (2005), it had reached 30%. Over the past three years, it seems to have stabilised around 29%, but is still extraordinarily high," Motsoaledi said.

Speaking on the current state of the epidemic, he said its effects could be clearly seen in the country's mortality and estimates of life expectancy figures.

"In South Africa, 43% of maternal mortality is HIV related. Among pregnant, HIV-positive women, maternal mortality has increased 10 fold, as against those that are negative.

"A similar picture is seen with under-five mortality, whereby 57% of deaths of children under the age of five during 2007, were as a result of HIV.

"Tuberculosis is the leading cause of death among people living with HIV in the South Africa -- there is a 73 percent co-infection rate. Between 1997 and 2005, the number of people dying from TB each year rose by 334.8 percent.

"Of the estimated 5.5 million people in South Africa infected with HIV, one third will develop TB during their lifetime," he said.

'Brink of collapse'

HIV and Aids had brought South Africa's health system to "the brink of collapse", and tackling the disease had rightly been prioritised in the five-year national strategic plan, developed in 2007.

This aimed to reduce the number of new HIV infections by half, and to provide comprehensive treatment, care and support to 80% of those who needed it, by the end of 2011.

On sustainable funding for the treatment and care of those with Aids, Motsoaledi said this had become a "hot issue" at the conference.

"In South Africa, we have over one million people on treatment. And while Aids has taken tens of millions of lives, the global effort of the last decade has begun to reverse that. We are saving lives...

"Yet, this success will be under threat if funding dries up. The global economic recession has resulted in a situation where the Global Fund [to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria] may fall far short of the $17bn it needs over the next three years.

"The recent allocations to Pepfar [President's Emergency Plan For Aids Relief] are keeping track with inflation, but not much more.

"Certainly our government believes that there needs to be greater donor investment in HIV if we are to ensure the millions of lives continue to be saved," Motsoaledi said.

A copy of Motsoaledi's speech was sent to Sapa.

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