News24, 07 December 2002, Aids 'knows no boundaries'

Johannesburg - HIV/Aids is not just a disease affecting the poor, the young or certain population groups and provinces in South Africa.

More than 6% of whites are infected. This is up to six times more than other countries with mainly white populations such as the USA, Australia and France.

About 5.6% of children between the ages of 2 and 14 from all population groups are HIV positive and 12.1% of the residents of formal urban neighbourhoods suffer from the disease.

These statistics form part of the results of the country's first independent and representative survey on the prevalence of HIV/Aids conducted by Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC). The results were released in Johannesburg on Thursday.

Earlier this year, the HSRC performed saliva tests on more than 8 000 people countrywide, 11,4% of which tested HIV positive.

Unaware of HIV status

About 76% of those infected with the virus were unaware of their HIV status and 63% of them didn't think they were at risk of contracting the disease.

Dr Olive Shisana, chief researcher, said they were shocked by the inexplicable high rate of infection among children.

"Mother-to-child transmissions and sexual abuse cannot explain this. We know that some of these children were sexually active and we are investigating the possibility that contaminated needles might play a role. Urgent research is necessary."

The council's figures are lower than government estimates that are based on HIV tests conducted on pregnant women in government health institutions.

The HSRC said the government's samples were not representative because they only targeted young black women who were sexually active.

Pregnant mothers

Both the council and government found that more than 24% of pregnant women are HIV positive.

The prevalence of HIV/Aids among blacks who took part in the survey is 12.9%. Among coloured people the incidence was 6.1% and among Indians 1.6%.

Former president Nelson Mandela said the results of the survey showed that "we shouldn't only focus on blacks as far as HIV/Aids is concerned, but also on whites, coloureds and Indians".

The HSRC found that KwaZulu Natal did not have the highest infection rate as was believed earlier. At 11.7% is was much lower than the government estimate that put the number at 33.5% after a survey in 2001.

Truck drivers

One of the explanations for the deviation is the fact that government surveys were done at clinics near the main routes. Earlier research showed that the incidence of HIV/Aids is higher among truck drivers and sex workers in these areas.

Free State has the highest incidence at 14.9%, Gauteng is second at 14.7% and Mpumalanga third at 14.1%.

The Western Cape, in the past believed to have the lowest number of HIV positive people, is fifth with 10.7%.

The Eastern Cape has the lowest number of HIV positive people with 6.6%. The incidence in the Northern Cape is 8.4%, North West 10.3% and Limpopo 9.8%.

The prevalence of the disease on farms is 7.9%, 8.7% in traditional communities and 21.3% in informal urban settlements.