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S Africa 'losing' AIDS battle

22nd October 2007

The United Nations has warned South Africa that it is in danger of losing its fight against HIV/AIDS.

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The UN children's agency, UNICEF, said infection and death rates from the human immunodeficiency virus were growing faster than healthcare services were, and outstripping the ability of treatment programmes to take on new cases.

Macharia Kamau, UNICEF's representative in South Africa, said the epidemic was having a devastating effect on children whose parents had both died of AIDS.

Kamau said present trends sent out a dire warning of a future in which South Africa could see the number of AIDS orphans rise to five million by 2015, compared with 1.5 million today.

Infant mortality is level or falling in all but nine countries in the world. One of the nine is South Africa, where infant mortality has reached 95 deaths per 1,000 live births compared with 60 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1990.

UNICEF blames HIV/AIDS mostly for that increase, as more than 30% of the population is believed infected, while in some areas one in two people is infected. Nationally, 400,000 people die of AIDS every year.

Kamau warned that infants whose mothers died of AIDS were at huge risk of dying themselves. Meanwhile, older children who lose one or more parents face a struggle to survive and to go to school, he said.

While 380,000 South African Aids patients are receiving antiretroviral (ARV) drugs, 1.2 million are not receiving treatment. A recent study showed a high drop-out rate two years after enrolment in an ARV treatment programme.

Kamau warned that South Africa would lose the battle against HIV/AIDS as long as infection and death rates continued to outpace treatment.

UNICEF has called for an immediate and aggressive expansion of treatment, together with more open AIDS prevention campaigns spearheaded by the government.

AIDS activists are campaigning against the stigma which still surrounds the disease in South Africa, but say they lack a clear lead from health officials.

 

 

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