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Report highlights need for targeted HIV/AIDs prevention in South Africa

A new report released by the United Nations estimates the number of people with the HIV virus at 33.3 million people globally. This represents a slight decrease from 2009, when the total was put at 33.4 million. The drop hopefully signifies that the HIV/AIDS epidemic is slowing and has possibly even peaked. In over 56 countries, HIV rates are believed to have stabilised or have seen significant decreases. Despite the good news, the report also highlights that of the 15 million sufferers in the poorer countries of the world, only around a third are receiving life-saving anti-retroviral drugs.

South Africa has the world’s highest number of HIV cases, with nearly 6 million people living with AIDS. Among adults aged between 15-49, HIV prevalence is running at 18 per cent. A new report from UNAIDS suggests that overall the country is seeing significant progress in the fight against HIV/AIDS, with new infections reduced by more than 25 per cent.

However, the picture among certain sections of the population is not so encouraging. According to a recent survey commissioned by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), prevalence of HIV among farm workers in South Africa was found to be as high as 40 per cent. This finding came from a survey of 3,000 workers in two provinces, Limpopo and Mpumalanga, who were given a dry blood spot test. The workers also answered questionnaires about their lifestyles, behaviour and beliefs. Although 80 per cent of the workers admitted they would have no problem in getting hold of condoms, less than half said they had used one with their last sexual partner. Of those who were HIV-positive, less than 10 per cent were being treated for the disease.

The survey also highlighted the risk posed to communities by the mobility of workers. About 40 per cent of those surveyed came from Zimbabwe, Mozambique or Swaziland, where HIV infection rates are also high. In sub-Saharan Africa as a whole, 1.8 million new infections were recorded in 2009. Closer cross-border cooperation is needed between these countries if the epidemic is to be further reduced, since HIV spreads easily as workers move around.

With poor working conditions and long journey times to access health services, these workers represent some of the most vulnerable groups. Nevertheless, their answers indicate how much more work needs to be done to keep HIV from spreading.  Because as the latest UN report indicates, with better prevention and treatment, it is possible to reverse the trend and stem the growing tide of HIV/AIDS infections.

Laurinda Luffman signature