News24, 27 November 2002, Fewer pregnant teens HIV+

Johannesburg - South Africa should increase treatment for people with Aids to build on the successes so far of its HIV/Aids treatment projects, says the United Nations secretary-general's special envoy for HIV/Aids in Africa.

Stephen Lewis was speaking on Wednesday in Rosebank, Johannesburg, after the release on Tuesday of the global Aids Epidemic Update report prepared by the World Health Organisation and UNAids.

The report commended South Africa for its work in fighting the pandemic, stating that "evidence from Ethiopia and South Africa shows that prevention work is beginning to pay off for young women, with HIV prevalence rates dropping among pregnant teenagers".

The report states that in South Africa HIV prevalence rates for pregnant women under 20 fell to 15.4% in 2001, down from 21%in 1998.

This happened along with a drop in syphilis rates among pregnant women attending antenatal clinic - down to 2.8% in 2001 from 11.2% four years earlier.

"This suggests that awareness campaigns and prevention programmes are bearing fruit."

Lewis applauded the government for rolling out pilot projects that provided nevirapine to HIV-positive mothers and for preaching preventive methods through organisations like loveLife.

14.4 million facing starvation

However he said: "Obviously there are still controversial issues on HIV/Aids in South Africa. The UN believes treatment (for those with Aids) should be increased."

The Aids report stated the major challenge in South Africa was to sustain and build "on such tentative success, not least because HIV-infection levels continue to rise among older pregnant women".

Lewis is in Africa for three weeks and will visit Lesotho, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Malawi and Zambia, countries affected by the humanitarian crisis which has 14.4 million people facing the threat of starvation.

HIV/Aids had played a key role in causing and exacerbating the crisis.

"I think it is reasonable to argue that Aids has caused the food crisis. What we all feared one day would happen is happening."

Lewis said that, according to the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), seven million agricultural workers in 25 severely affected African countries had died from Aids since 1995.

"It warns that 16 million more could die in the next 20 years if massive and effective programmes are not mounted."

3.5 million new infections

Aids had destroyed the agricultural workers and curtailed the plots of land under agricultural use.

The Aids report stated that the worst-affected region was sub-Saharan Africa where 29.4 million people were living with HIV/Aids.

It said about 3.5 million new infections occurred this year while 10 million young people, aged between 15 and 24, and almost three million children under 15 were infected.

During his mission, Lewis said, he would meet government officials, representatives of donor governments and relief agencies, and people living with HIV/Aids.