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Last Updated: Monday, 11 July 2005, 12:57 GMT 13:57 UK
Big jump in S African HIV cases
Aids activists in South Africa
South Africa could have the world's largest number of people with HIV
South Africa's health department has released figures suggesting that HIV infection rates in the country may be greater than previously thought.

A study of women in antenatal clinics suggests that more than six million of South Africa's 40 million people are infected with HIV.

In May, the state statistics agency estimated that 4.5 million South Africans were carrying the virus.

South Africa has often been critised for not taking firmer action on Aids.

HIV infection in South Africa
Population - 40m
Health Dept - 6m+ with HIV
Statistics agency - 4.5m with HIV
Results from the study, conducted last year, indicate that between 6.29 and 6.57 million South Africans are infected, the health department said.

The department said the corresponding figure for the end of 2003 was 5.6 million.

Conflicting figures

However Statistics South Africa, the state statistical agency, announced in May that 4.5 South Africans were estimated to be infected.

That statistic implied that South Africa had been overtaken by India as the country with the highest number of HIV-positive people.

Official figures say India has 5.1 million people with HIV.

However, the South African government's latest announcement suggests that South Africa does indeed have the largest number of people living with HIV.

The health department published the new findings only days after the opposition Democratic Alliance launched a legal bid to obtain a copy of the report.

DA spokeswoman Dianne Kohler-Barnard told Business Day newspaper that the release of the report was "a triumph".

But health department spokesman Sibane Mngani told the newspaper the release was unconnected with the DA's application.

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