South African gov't proposes new plan to fight AIDS

Report vows to expand treatment program; welcomed by activists after years of condemnation for policies that run counter to medical advice.

AIDS ribbon 88 (photo credit: )
AIDS ribbon 88
(photo credit: )
The South African government proposed a five-year plan Wednesday to reduce the number of new HIV infections by 50 percent, saying it had failed to persuade young people to change their sexual habits. In a report, the government also said the country needed to better address the stigma associated with the disease, which discouraged many people from being tested, and vowed to expand its treatment and care program to cover 80 percent of people with AIDS. The report's frankness - and the warmth with which it was greeted by AIDS activists - marked a turnaround in government rhetoric on AIDS, after years of international condemnation for policies that many said went against medical advice and activists' efforts. The health minister in particular has been criticized for questioning antiretroviral treatments and promoting nutritional remedies, such as garlic and lemons, to fight the disease. "There are still too many people living with HIV, too many still getting infected," the report said. "The impact on individuals and households is enormous." Children were also vulnerable, with high rates of mother-to-child transmission. Poor coordination and lack of clear targets and monitoring has helped AIDS to become a major cause of premature death in South Africa, with mortality rates increasing by about 79 percent in 1997-2004, with a higher increase among women, the 120-page report said. A two-day conference, beginning Wednesday, was to bring political and business leaders together with AIDS activists to discuss ways to implement the government's five-year plan. Such a gathering marks a break from the mutual suspicion between the groups, which some say has hindered efforts to make progreess in fighting HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. More needed to be done to involve the business community, the reports said, as it noted the devastating impact of AIDS on productivity and the work force. About 5.54 million people were estimated to be living with HIV in South Africa in 2005, with 19 percent of the adult population affected. Women in the age group 25-29 were the worst affected, with prevalence rates of up to 40 percent.