Business Day, 07 December 2002, Research offers new insights into spread of HIV/AIDS in SA
rate among whites and children shown to be higher than expected
The lead partners in
the study were the council and the Nelson Mandela Foundation.
It is the first of its
kind in SA, and draws on a representative sample of the SA population to offer a
snapshot of how the epidemic is affecting all ages and population groups.
Other studies have
drawn on specific population groups, such as young pregnant women attending
government antenatal clinics, to estimate the HIV prevalence rate among other
population groups. The study's findings, based on the results of anonymous
saliva tests from 8428 participants, offers new insights on how best to allocate
resources and develop strategies to combat HIV/AIDS in the country.
It also raises
questions about how the epidemic has spread, says Olive Shisana, executive
director of social aspects of HIV/AIDS and health at the research council, and
the study's principal investigator.
One of the most
worrying findings was that the infection rate among young children aged 2-14 was
Shisana said this was
unlikely to be due solely to sexual abuse because the incidence of HIV among
boys and girls was found to be the same, and girls were more vulnerable to
sexual abuse than boys. She said further investigation was required urgently.
The study found HIV
prevalence among whites was 6,2%, considerably higher than in countries with
predominantly white populations such as the
HIV prevalence was
The most recent
antenatal clinic survey indicated KwaZuluNatal was the most badly affected
province, with 33,5% of pregnant women attending government clinics in 2000
A possible reason for
the discrepancy, said Shisana, was that the sites for KwaZulu-Natal's antenatal
clinic survey are along major transport routes, which are high risk areas for
HIV. Overall, the study found that 11,4% of the SA population, or 4,5-million
people, were infected with HIV.
Of those tested in the
study, 22,3% proved to be HIV positive (women 12,8% and men for 9,5%). Among
young people aged 15 to 24, twice as many women (12%) were infected as males
(6%). The survey also found people in urban informal settlements had the highest
HIV prevalence rate (21,3%), followed by formal urban areas (12,1%), tribal
areas (8,7%) and farms (7,9%).
Joel Netshitenzhe welcomed the study's results yesterday as a positive
contribution to understanding the effect of the epidemic.
He said the study's
finding that a high percentage of people in SA believe that antiretroviral
medicines should be provided to society, was consistent with government's own
antiretroviral medicines could help improve the condition of those infected with
HIV/AIDS, but had to deal with the challenges posed by a number of constraints.
These included infrastructure, the training of medical personnel on the management of HIV/AIDS and ensuring patient compliance with the treatment regime.