||joya banerjee [ profile ]
FW: Economist: SA making headway against AIDS
Dec 6th, 2010 - 05:21:37
(MOD: I am including the whole article because it's available by
subscription only online).
South Africa and AIDS
Getting to grips
The government is beginning to make some headway against AIDS
2010 | JOHANNESBURG | from PRINT EDITION
WITH 0.7% of the world's population, South Africa has 17% of its
HIV/AIDS sufferers-6m in a population of 50m. Some 3m, most of them in
their prime, have died from the disease, with a further 1,000 dying
every day, leaving hundreds of thousands of orphans and robbing Africa's
most advanced economy of much-needed skills. In the past two decades
life expectancy for black South Africans, who have been hardest hit by
the epidemic, has plunged from over 60 to just 47.
But, after a decade of denialism under the former president, Thabo
Mbeki, who was loth to admit a connection between the human
immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and the disease, President Jacob Zuma's
government is fighting back. South Africa now has the world's biggest
antiretroviral treatment programme, providing ARVs to around 1m
patients, double the number three years ago. It has also launched the
world's biggest HIV-testing campaign aimed at checking 15m people within
as many months. Last year the government spent 17.6 billion rand ($2.1
billion), including from private local outfits, to tackle the scourge,
30% of the cash provided by international donors. Even so, it is
struggling to bring the epidemic under control.
Although new infections fell by a third between 2002 and 2008, they are
still running at around 1,350 a day. According to the latest research,
barely four out of ten sexually active men under 35 routinely use
condoms, and just one in four has ever had an AIDS test.
The epidemic is aggravated by South Africa's exceptionally high rape
rate. A survey by the country's Medical Research Council found that 37%
of men in Gauteng, the richest province, admitted to having committed at
least one rape. Only one in 25 of those rapes was reported to the
Mr Zuma, with his many wives and mistresses and multiple children born
out of wedlock, is often accused of setting a bad example in the fight
against AIDS. The president was once charged with rape but was
acquitted. Nevertheless he has more recently led the way in battling the
stigma and fear associated with HIV/AIDS, undergoing two public tests
(both proving negative) since becoming president; Mr Mbeki always
refused to be tested.
Two-thirds of those in need of ARVs are now getting them, though the
government admits it is unlikely to hit its target of 80% coverage by
2011, mainly because there are too few medical staff. Medical supplies
are also under threat, since armed gangsters have begun raiding AIDS
clinics and mugging patients to steal the ARV medication, Stocrin.
Together with cannabis, rat poison and some other ingredients, it is
being used to make a lethal new drug, known as whoonga or wunga.
Selling for just 15-35 rand a dose to give you a high, it is spreading
like wildfire through the black townships. Just two puffs are said to
get you hooked.
Thanks to the government's AIDS-testing campaign, launched in April,
many more people are getting tested, though at barely half the ambitious
planned rate of 1m a month. Many more men are also getting circumcised
following research indicating that this could give them up to 60% more
Among the black population of all ages, 14% have been infected with the
virus, compared with 1.7% of coloureds (people of mixed race) and just
0.3% of Indians and whites. Some research suggests this vast racial
difference is because black South African males tend to have more
concurrent partners and are more reluctant to wear condoms than other
groups. Unless such behaviour changes, South Africa is unlikely to beat
the disease any time soon.