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Wednesday, 19 April, 2000, 10:48 GMT 11:48 UK
South Africa Aids crisis worsens
Africa
Aids is at epidemic proportions across Africa
The Aids epidemic in South Africa has reached alarming new levels, with 10% of the population now infected with HIV.

A national survey of 17,000 women attending pre-natal clinics confirmed that the country has one of the highest rates of infection in the world.



HIV continues to be a very serious health problem in South Africa

Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang
The level of infection with HIV, the virus which leads to Aids, was even more worrying among pregnant women - 22% were HIV infected.

Aids is now the leading cause of death in Africa, being responsible for one in five of all deaths in the continent last year, according to the United Nations (UN).

The latest survey showed that in South Africa's worst hit province - KwaZulu Natal - one in three women are HIV infected.

The country's Health Ministry said half of those who are HIV positive are in their 20s.

Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang said: "HIV continues to be a very serious health problem in South Africa."

The report says the Aids epidemic will have a major impact on the country for at least the next decade and that the country of 43 million people faces a massive drain on its already over-stretched healthcare system.

Full scale

But the UN Aids programme (UNAIDS) for the region said the survey did not reveal the full scale of the epidemic.

As Sy, team leader for UNAIDS in eastern and southern Africa, said: "Here we are facing a huge epidemic. These numbers are so big and yet do not truly translate the huge problem at community and family level.

"There are millions of people who don't know they are infected."

However, Sime Lela, national director of HIV-Aids at South Africa's Health Ministry, said the survey showed some signs of hope as the rate of increase in cases over the past few years has slowed, particularly in people under 20 years old.

But Lela added: "There has to be a redoubling of our efforts."

Increase

A study released by bankers ING Barings in Johannesburg this month said 2.5 times as many people in South Africa would die from AIDS as from any other disease by 2010.

It said the HIV infection rate would peak at 17 percent in 2006.

Gavin Hart at the National Aids Trust in the UK said the South African Government had been slow to react to the Aids crisis and still refused to accept the link between HIV and Aids.

It also does not prescribe the drug AZT to pregnant women which cuts the rates of mother to child transmission.

He added: "There is work to be done in terms of encouraging wider use of condoms in South African society. It is about gradually bringing about a behaviour change."

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See also:

12 Nov 99 | Health
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UN to forecast HIV rise
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Thousands unaware they have HIV
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Aids factfile UK
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