War against HIV/Aids ‘far from won’

30 November 2011

South Africa recorded an increase of 0.8% in the HIV prevalence of antenatal women between 2009 and 2010 – a clear indication, says Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi, that the country’s war against HIV/Aids has yet to be won.

The 2010 National Antenatal Sentinel HIV & Syphilis Prevalence Survey, conducted annually by the department for the past 21 years, was released by Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi on Tuesday, ahead of World Aids Day on 1 December.

The report showed that HIV prevalence among women who received antenatal treatment at the country’s clinics was 30.2% in 2010, compared with 29.4% in 2009.

The study was conducted among a sample of 32 225 first-time antenatal care attendees last year, with 32 861 having participated in 2009.

‘The war still has to be won’

Speaking at the release of the survey, Motsoaledi said the figures showed that South Africa was “just holding back the tsunami” in the battle against HIV/Aids.

“At the moment we are stable, but we think the war still has to be won … We need to fight the war.”

The WHO/UNAids estimates the number of people living with HIV in South Africa for 2010 at 5.575-million. Of these, an estimated 518 000 are children under 15 years, while 2.95-million are adult females over the age of 15.

Highest in KwaZulu-Natal

The highest provincial HIV prevalence was recorded in KwaZulu-Natal, which increased from 38.7% in 2008 to 39.5% in 2009 and stabilised at 39.5% in 2010.

Other provinces with higher HIV prevalence estimates compared to 2009 were the Eastern Cape (29.9%), Gauteng (30.4%), Limpopo (21.9%), Mpumalanga (35.1%), Northern Cape (18.4%) and the Western Cape (18.5%).

The North West and the Free State had lower HIV prevalence estimates, at 29.6% and 30.6% respectively.

Lower in the 15-24 age group

The study reflected that the peak in HIV prevalence (from 2007 to 2010) was now occurring in the 30-34 years age category.

“The HIV prevalence in this group increased from 41.5% in 2009 to 42.6% in 2010,” the survey found.

The encouraging finding was the decline in the prevalence rate in the 15-24 years age group, which dropped from 23.1% in 2001 to 21.8% in 2010.

“Prevalence in the young group (15-24) is declining, and we suspect that our prevention methods in messages are reaching where they need to reach,” Motsoaledi said.

Teenage pregnancy concern

Of concern, however, was the teenage pregnancy rate revealed by a Department of Education sanctioned study spanning 2000 to 2008.

It showed that teenage pregnancy was more prevalent in KwaZulu-Natal, with 15 027 cases, the Eastern Cape (11 852) and Limpopo (12 848).

The Health Department’s survey showed that of 121 10-14 year olds that participated in the 2010 antenatal HIV survey, 11 (9.4%) were HIV-positive, which is an increase from the 7.3% recorded in 2008.

“In all our prevention programmes, we need to include young children and work together with the Department of Social Development and Basic Education,” said Motsoaledi.

He said the hostility shown to the department regarding the testing of children in schools was misplaced, adding that there was an urgent need to finalise the school health programme.

“When the health workers visit the schools, they will also do sexual reproductive health so as not to confuse people.”

‘Faithfulness is the main message’

On the interventions to address the high prevalence in the older age group, Motsoaledi said they would revisit the “ABC” message “Abstain, Be faithful, Condomise” and check which part was working.

“Faithfulness is the main message. It’s a difficult issue but not impossible … We need to target men and concentrate on those responsible for spreading the disease,” Motsoaledi said.

“The issue has been discussed with men’s groups. We need to ask nurses to sit down with married couples, including in churches, to speak about the issue of faithfulness. Through medical male circumcision, men are also being counselled on men’s responsibilities.”

Source: BuaNews