Independent On-Line, 06 December 2002, War against Aids gets a shot in the arm

The government has promised to increase Aids funding by R3,3-billion over the next three years when it announced on Thursday that it shared the "public view" that more resources needed to be allocated to the fight against HIV and Aids.

The reported "public view" was revealed in the first nationally representative study on HIV and Aids, commissioned by former president Nelson Mandela and carried out by the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC).

The government has embraced the central findings of the most comprehensive study of HIV and Aids prevalence in
South Africa and welcomed trends that show the youth are making more use of condoms, faithfulness and abstinence.

"We urge all South Africans, as the Nelson Mandela Foundation and the HSRC have done through this research, to lend a hand in building the partnership of hope to implement the comprehensive programme," said a health department statement.

The government made particular mention of findings that indicated that sexual conduct among youth was changing for the better.

"Particularly encouraging is the information about the impact of the prevention programme," said the statement.

Mandela, who officially released the study at the Sandton Convention Centre in
Johannesburg on Thursay, said it marked a "watershed" in the fight against Aids and gave South Africans data to tackle the epidemic "more vigorously".

The study found massive public support - between 96,5 percent and 95 percent respectively - for the provision of anti-retrovirals (ARVs) to prevent mother-to-child transmission and for the treatment of people living with HIV and Aids.

It also found that people generally perceived the government to be committed to the fight against Aids, but most felt it was not allocating enough resources to fighting the epidemic.

The health department said in response that public support for the use of ARVs was in accord with the government's position that ARVs could improve the lot of Aids victims if used correctly.

The health department said it was particularly encouraged by the results of the study, that indicated a high level of awareness, a change of sexual behaviour and a reduction in the prevalence of the disease among young people.

Earlier, Mandela said despite the fact that the country was in the midst of a pandemic, the results of the study gave him "hope" that "in the end, we will win the war against Aids".

At the release of the study, Mandela pledged another R10-million on behalf of his foundation to the recent programme he launched - along with the South African Medical Association - to provide free ARVs at 18 sites across the country.