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Wednesday, 21 March, 2001, 12:40 GMT
South African HIV infections rise
Young South Africans
Some teenagers are listening to the Aids messages
By Greg Barrow in Johannesburg

The number of South Africans becoming infected with HIV is still on the rise.

According to government figures for the year 2000, one in nine South Africans or 4.7m people are now infected with HIV - a 12% increase on the previous year.

The figures do show, however, that the rate of increase is leveling off.

If those with HIV develop full blown Aids then almost five million people will be expected to die over the next two decades.

Increase

In the early 1990s the rate of new HIV infections increased dramatically as the virus spread through the South African population.

Main findings
1 in 9 South Africans HIV positive
12% increase on 1999
Rate of increase slowing down
No rise in infection rate amongst teenagers
By 1997 it was increasing exponentially but government officials say that since 1998 the rate of infection has begun to slow down.

In some age groups, most notably teenagers, there has been no increase in the rate of new infections for the past three years.

Education

The government ascribes this to its safe-sex campaigns but it admits that there is still no room for complacency.

The real challenge facing the South African government is how to carry the social and economic burden of those who are already infected with HIV.

The vast majority of South Africans still have no access to the anti-retroviral drugs that can turn HIV infection from a terminal disease into chronic illness that can be treated.

Their government is currently involved in a court case brought by pharmaceutical companies that want to block legislation which could allow South Africa to produce its own cheaper versions of anti-retroviral and other drugs.

But even if the government wins the case it could take years before affordable drugs reach the market.

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See also:

19 Mar 01 | Africa
SA rejects HIV test kits
15 Mar 01 | Africa
Analysis: Aids drugs and the law
21 Feb 01 | Business
Glaxo offers cheaper Aids drugs
12 May 00 | Africa
Aids initiative 'no magic cure'
24 Oct 00 | Aids
Aids drugs factfile
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