The effects of HIV/Aids "genocide" will cripple the South African economy if nothing is done to combat the pandemic, Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane said on Thursday.
"The epidemic is slowly, but surely, robbing us of the young, beautiful minds and the able-bodied who, under a different set of circumstances, would be making a healthy contribution to the welfare and economic development of our province and the country in general," she said.
"If this situation is not urgently attended to it has a potential of causing unprecedented misery as a result of plummeting productivity levels that will inevitably have a crippling effect on the economy."
Mokonyane was speaking at the opening of the Gauteng Aids summit in Turffontein, Johannesburg.
She said the conference was the ideal platform to discuss the effects the disease could have on the country.
People could either halt it in its tracks or continue to bury their heads in the ground in the hope it would pass, she said.
"But if we are conscious and convinced that we are faced with a threat of genocide, we would know that we have no better chance or choice but to approach this summit with an attitude of a soldier whose sole intention is to decimate the enemy and prevent genocide from occurring."
She said the number of Aids-related deaths peaked in 2007, but showed a substantial decrease when the results of the introduction of antiretroviral treatment (ART) in 2004 started filtering through.
"We now have 340 clinics and hospitals which provide ART with trained professional nurses to initiate and maintain ongoing ART programmes," Mokonyane said.
"The infection in babies has been reduced by more than half from 11.6 percent to 2.3 percent through the implementation of health services for pregnant women."
She said government was aiming to reduce the number of HIV infections by half in 2016.
DA MPL Jack Bloom said he was pleased with the progress but warned that the country should not be complacent.
"While HIV infection in teenagers and youth has reportedly been halved from 2007 to 2011, about 30 percent of pregnant women in Gauteng are HIV-positive, which is the same as it was 10 years ago," he said.
"The Democratic Alliance endorses the goal of reducing new HIV infections by at least 50 percent by 2016. Treatment is expensive, so behavioural change is critical and this starts by testing and knowing one's status."
The conference ends on Friday.