January 20, 2012
UNAIDS said Thursday it expects South Africa will see "massive reductions" in HIV/AIDS cases by 2020.
"[South Africa] now has more people with HIV infection than any country in the world, with 5.6 million. That is because of a lack of political commitment before," said Shelia Tlou, UNAIDS regional director for east and southern Africa. "However, there is a turnaround in the new government under President Zuma," which is committed to fighting the epidemic, she said at a press conference in Geneva.
Since assuming the presidency in 2009, Zuma has taken dramatic steps to reduce the toll of HIV/AIDS in South Africa. He has significantly expanded the country's antiretroviral treatment program, and last month he unveiled a plan to halve the number of new HIV infections during the next five years. It is the first such plan since the 2008 ouster of President Thabo Mbeki and his health minister, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, who advocated vegetables rather than medicines to treat AIDS.
Tlou, a nursing professor and former minister of health in Botswana, said the region is known as the "center of the epidemic," as nearly three-quarters of the 34 million people with HIV/AIDS worldwide live in east or southern Africa. "There has been quite a lot of progress since 1997, with a 25 percent reduction in new infections in our region," she said. "One of our targets is to reduce new infections by 50 percent" by 2015, she added.