Independent On-Line, 05 December 2002, Survey reveals shock Aids rate in W Cape

Once thought to have the lowest HIV and Aids rates in the country, the Western Cape is now worse off than Limpopo, North West and the Eastern Cape, a national survey has found.

This is one of the findings in the first systematically sampled national survey of HIV and Aids, funded by the Nelson Mandela Foundation and run by the Human Sciences Research Council.

Mandela released the findings on Thursday at the Sandton Convention Centre in
Johannesburg.

The finding that the Western Cape had a much higher HIV prevalence rate (10,7 percent) than estimated on the basis of antenatal surveys (8,6 percent), could be explained by the high percentage of informal settlements, where the rate was far higher than in formal housing.

The Western Cape is fifth in the list of provinces, with a rate higher than in North West (10,3 percent), Limpopo (9,8 percent), Northern Cape (8,4 percent) and the Eastern Cape (6,6 percent).

The report found people in informal urban settlements are almost twice as likely to contract HIV and Aids as those in formal urban housing, consolidating a link between poverty, overcrowding and the disease.

The highest rates were not in
KwaZulu-Natal, as thought, but in the Free State, Gauteng and Mpumalanga - where the concentration of informal settlements is highest.

The report urged the government to roll out anti-retroviral treatment as soon as possible.

It also called for steps to drastically reduce the price of drugs by removing VAT from medicines and encouraging a local manufacturing industry.

"It is crucial that government uses the gains it made in winning the case against the pharmaceutical companies to produce generic versions of anti-retroviral drugs," it said.

"
South Africa has the capacity to produce drugs to treat its people and even export them (drugs) to neighbouring countries with high HIV prevalence."

The report recommended wide-ranging steps to improve the treatment and prevention of the virus and to devote more resources to care facilities.

Mandela, who has led a campaign to change HIV and Aids policy over the past 12 months, said that it was vital to remove the terrible stigma and discrimination associated with the disease.

"What is important is what we do on the ground to ensure that people understand how HIV is contracted and how to deal with it," he said at a briefing.

"We have to smash the perception that if you enter a house where people have Aids, you will contract the virus."

Noting strong public support for provision of anti-retrovirals, the report commended the government for its April 17 statement on rolling out the drugs for HIV-positive mothers and victims of sexual assault, and for significantly increasing state resources to counter the pandemic.

Earlier Mandela and the HSRC team briefed the presidency, the health department and other government bodies.

The report said the roll-out of anti-retrovirals was as urgent for all people living with Aids as it was for HIV-positive pregnant mothers to prevent mother-to-child transmission.

Mandela's unveiling of the study comes after his launch on Tuesday night of a joint programme, funded by the private sector, with the Medical Association of South Africa to provide 9 000 public sector patients with anti-retrovirals at 18 pilot sites.