Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang said on Monday South Africa was beginning to win the fight against HIV/AIDS and she would soon release a survey showing infection rates among the youth
About 4,7 million of South Africa's 43 million people are living with HIV/AIDS, the government says. The United Nations says this is more than any other country in the world.
South Africa has provoked worldwide criticism by blocking widespread access to anti-AIDS drugs it deems costly and toxic.
But last month the government announced a dramatic shift in its AIDS policy, offering state-funded antiretroviral treatment to rape victims for the first time.
I think we are beginning to turn a corner in our country, Tshabalala-Msimang told reporters, saying the stigma attached to people with the deadly disease was waning.
She was speaking on the last day of the government's appeal against a lower court ruling that it must widely offer a drug that cuts the risk of mothers passing HIV/AIDS to their babies. The Constitutional Court may take a month to decide the appeal.
Particularly among youths, we're seeing stabilisation of the infection rate, the minister said, adding the survey would indicate that the young will outlive the old.
But she said the report, which would be made public after it is reviewed by cabinet, would not be all good news.
A worrying factor is that we are not seeing HIV stabilisation among women between 25 and 45 coming to public ante-natal clinics.
Tshabalala-Msimang would not comment on the court case that centres on whether a court could dictate government policy and whether the government has a constitutional duty to provide Nevirapine to thousands of HIV-positive pregnant women.
She also declined to say when the government would be ready to roll-out Nevirapine - said to cut HIV transmission from mothers to their babies by up to half - or what it would cost.
She said a key issue was infant feeding options. Breastfeeding is not advised during Nevirapine use, but women who do not breastfeed could be shunned by their communities, she added.
If the government opted to promote formula milk feeding, that would make up some 69 percent of all costs of rolling out Nevirapine access beyond the government's pilot sites where the efficacy and side effects of the drug are being researched.
Government lawyers have argued it was vital to respect the separation of powers between the judiciary and the executive, but some judges from the 11-bench Constitutional Court have said the case was also about saving babies from death.
Tshabalala-Msimang's briefing was called to announce the health department's plans for the worldwide Candlelight Memorial on May 19 to mourn those who have died of AIDS.
Source: Reuters via Independent on Line: 7 May 2002