20 Percent Of South Africa's
Nurses Have AIDS
JOHANNESBURG (AFP) - South African health workers have been so badly affected by the HIV epidemic that some 35,000, or 20 percent, of the country's nurses are carrying the virus, press reports said Tuesday.
According to figures quoted at a health workers' conference in Midrand outside Johannesburg, student nurses have also succumbed to the disease in huge numbers, the Star newspaper reported.
The head of the Hospital Association of South Africa, Dr Annette van der Merwe, on Monday told delegates that more than half of the first-year nursing students at one of the four state nursing colleges in Gauteng province were HIV-positive.
Van der Merwe said HIV/AIDS was hitting the profession at a time when staffing levels were at an all-time low.
The number of hospital beds had plummeted from 6.5 for every 1,000 people in the country in 1976 to 2.3 for every 1,000 citizens in 1996, she said.
Staffing levels in public hospitals were even more dire and there were only enough nurses to staff 1.8 beds for every 1,000 people, she said.
A manager at the Netcare hospital group, Eileen Brannigan, told delegates the situation could worsen as a result of the high incidence of HIV among health workers.
"In our organisation we are losing registered nurses. We are sitting with nurses who are dying now and the students are even worse off," she said.
Brannigan said some 70 percent of the students at a nursing college in Gauteng, which encompasses Johannesburg, were attending a clinic for HIV-carriers.
At another college, 21 percent of the students have volunteered that they are HIV-positive, she said.
Dr Liz Floyd, director of HIV and communicable diseases for the Gauteng health department, questioned the figures, saying some of them "sounded a little unreal."
She said health care professionals and the public were panicking and overestimating HIV statistics, as the impact of the disease started to be felt in South Africa.
According to the health ministry, some 300 nurses left South Africa to work overseas last year, while the figure has risen to 200 a month in 2000.
Brannigan said the country needed 29,282 nurses to counter this exodus and boost staffing levels, but a drastic drop in the number of students enrolling to study nursing and the impact of AIDS promised further shortages.
The conference heard that one of the main reasons given by nurses for quitting the profession was the fear of being infected with HIV in the course of duty.
Some 4.2 million South Africans -- more than one in 10 -- were HIV-positive at the end of last year, according to the health ministry.

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