July 5, 2007
On Wednesday in Pretoria, South Africa's health minister said a new sentinel report shows the "first evidence of a decline" in the country's HIV/AIDS epidemic. Preliminary figures from a 2006 antenatal survey found HIV prevalence among pregnant women had dropped to 29.1 percent from 30.2 percent the previous year, said Manto Tshabalala-Msimang. "The report indicates this decline is mainly among people under the age of 20 years, followed by those between 20 and 24," the minister said.
The survey was conducted among pregnant women attending government clinics and hospitals. Its findings are used to help determine the national HIV prevalence rate. The report noted that the country's HIV rates have been stable for several years.
"The decline in the under 20s, from 15.9 percent in 2005 to 13.7 percent in 2006, in particular, suggests a possible reduction in new infections in the populations," said Tshabalala-Msimang. The government recently launched an AIDS plan that aims reduce by half the rate of new HIV cases by 2011. A particular emphasis is on young people, among whom most new infections occur.
South Africa has the world's second-highest HIV/AIDS caseload, with around 5.5 million infections. The country also has one of the world's highest rates of teen pregnancy.