- JOHANNESBURG (AFP) - South Africa has one of the world's fastest-growing epidemics
of the human immunodeficiency virus, the precursor to the deadly AIDS,
according to a report released here Monday.
- The country this year notched up more
than half of the new HIV infections in the world's worst infected area,
sub-Saharan Africa, according to the head of the United Nations program
on HIV/AIDS, Peter Piot.
- About 70 percent of people infected with
HIV this year were in sub-Saharan Africa, where four-fifths of all Acquired
Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) deaths occurred in 1998, according to
- The U.N. program also estimates that
South Africa has more HIV-infected people than in any other country, except
- Addressing a press briefing ahead of
World AIDS Day on December 1, Piot warned that southern Africa is facing
an "unprecedented emergency" as the number of people infected
with the virus climbs at "alarming" rates.
- This year, 1.4 million people between
the ages of 15 and 49, the most sexually active age group, were infected
with HIV in the nine countries which make up southern Africa, he said.
- Piot said the four worst affected countries
in the region were Botswana, Namibia, Swaziland and Zimbabwe, where between
20 and 26 percent of people aged 15-49 were living with HIV or AIDS.
- But South Africa is 'catching up,' he
- Piot added: 'It is not by chance Africa
is so much affected by this epidemic, because the driving forces of this
epidemic are poverty, migration (and) conflict.'
- The first U.N.-sponsored South African
Human Development Report, also released at the briefing, said that projections
suggested the epidemic would infect almost 25 percent of South Africa's
population by 2010.
- By that year, life expectancy is expected
to drop from 68.2 to 48 years.
- The report said the epidemic was fueled
by apartheid's legacy of the migrant labor system, under which sexually
transmitted diseases flourish, and the subordinate status of women in the
- According to a separate Department of
Health report, "South Africa's epidemic has been one of the last to
develop in Africa, because of this country's most southerly position on
- "However, the epidemic is now growing
rapidly with over 1,500 people becoming infected each day."
- Welfare and Population Development Minister
Geraldine Fraser Moleketi reacted to criticism that the government had
been slow in acting on the AIDS threat saying it was never 'too late.'
- She said: 'We are looking at taking on
this battle in every way.'
- One of the government's first attempts
at spreading awareness about AIDS in South Africa was a controversial play,
"Sarafina 2," which cost 14 million rand (now more than $2 million).
- The production, canceled in 1996, was
widely criticized for imparting little information about the virus and
is currently under investigation in an attempt to recoup the EU funds allocated
- In September Deputy President Thabo Mbeki
launched the government AIDS Action Plan, to start with an awareness campaign
for which 80 million rand (14 million dollars) has been budgeted.
- Piot, who said his decision to commemorate
World AIDS Day in South Africa was an indication of the seriousness of
the problem in the region, said the epidemic can and must be fought.
- "These projections suppose that
we don't act, but that would be immoral and irresponsible," he said.