Sunday Times, 24 November 2002, HIV Statistics Influence Policy Rethink

New figures will guide government action

THE government is to revamp its social security system and policies based on the findings of a study by Statistics South Africa showing that HIV is a major underlying cause of death in the country.

Mbulelo Musi, a spokesman for the Social Development Department, said the study would be factored into the overhaul of government's comprehensive social security system.

The study, released this week, confirmed that the number of HIV deaths were rising, with 95% more men and 75% more women dying of Aids last year than in 1997.

The proportion of deaths due to HIV nearly doubled in three years, from 4.6% to 8.7%, the study found.

The number of people dying from tuberculosis, influenza and pneumonia has also increased dramatically. Stats SA deputy director-general Gugu Gule said although the researchers did not want to make inferences, HIV could have been the underlying cause of death where the immediate cause listed on the death certificate was TB, influenza or pneumonia.

Health Director-General Ayanda Ntsaluba said that the government's social cluster, including the departments of social development, health and education, would study the findings to discuss policy changes.

He said that while health policy changes were unlikely, as the study confirmed patterns they had already suspected, the government would consider increasing resources to care for Aids orphans and households burdened with HIV-related illnesses.

The Department of Health wanted more research into the association between people who have TB and are simultaneously infected with HIV, said Ntsaluba.

The Stats SA research team is to brief officials from the Department of Social Development this week about the implications of the study.

The Stats SA report will be used to identify shortcomings and inefficiencies in the state's social security system, Musi said.

"The study will be key in informing where more resources are needed, if new policies are required and if further studies should be commissioned."

Provincial social departments were instructed this week to study the report in order to adapt their policies where necessary, said Musi.

Another study released this week on the effectiveness of the government's Aids awareness campaign, Khomanani, found that 67% of South Africans now worry about contracting HIV compared to 47% in 2000.

The study, conducted by the Community Agency for Social Enquiry, found that 49% of those interviewed said they always used a condom during sex.

But 25% of the respondents believed that there was a cure for Aids. Of those, 58% think that antiretroviral drugs can cure them.

The study also showed that the government was succeeding in destigmatising the disease.

More than two-thirds (67%) of people said they would eat a meal with someone with HIV/Aids and 59% said they would allow their child to play with an HIV-positive child.

But just 48% of South Africans think the government is doing enough about Aids.