Andrew Quinn, Mail and Guardian Online
South Africa's national strategic plan, submitted for approval at a
conference, aims to cut new HIV infections by 50% and bring treatment and
support to at least 80% of HIV-positive people by 2011.
Health analysts hope South Africa is undergoing a basic shift in its official
approach to a pandemic that already infects about 5,5-million of the country's
47-million people and kills an estimated 1 000 South Africans every day.
"The indications are there has been a genuine change of heart at the
highest level," the influential Business Day newspaper said in an
editorial on Wednesday.
President Thabo Mbeki's government has long been accused by activists of
underplaying the threat of the pandemic, soliciting views of "AIDS
denialist" scientists and questioning the efficacy and safety of
antiretroviral (ARV) drugs.
While public pressure forced South Africa to launch one of the world's largest
public ARV programmes -- with more than 200 000 people already enrolled and
up to a million seen getting the drugs by 2011 -- many political observers have
continued to question the government's commitment to fighting the disease.
Much of the hope around South Africa's new AIDS strategy has been fuelled by the
sidelining of combative Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang -- now on sick
leave -- and the naming of Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka as the
country's top official on HIV policy.
AIDS activists have praised Mlambo-Ngcuka for her willingness to take a fresh
approach to battling the epidemic.
Government officials said last week the new plan had a preliminary budget of
about 3,3-billion, but other estimates have put the costs as high as
6-billion, leaving questions on where the extra money would come from.
"The government's willingness to dig deep into its pockets will be the
litmus test of its commitment," Business Day said.
The human costs of South Africa's foot-dragging on AIDS were highlighted on
Wednesday with the release of a study that showed an estimated 571 000 new
HIV infections in 2005 -- roughly 1 500 people a day -- well above Health
The research, published in the March edition of the South African Medical
Association Journal, said young people, and particularly young women, were
not being reached by current AIDS-prevention efforts.
"Among young people in the 15 to 24 year age group, women accounted for 90%
of all recent HIV infections," the researchers said.
The study also said a "substantial" number of children were infected
with HIV through means other than mother-to-child transmission, which could fuel
concern over child sexual abuse, and that residents of South Africa's urban
shantytowns had by far the highest incidence rates of the disease.
"These results suggest that poverty plays a significant role in increasing
vulnerability to HIV," Human Sciences Research Council director Olive
Shisana said in a statement.
Women will be one key focus of the new strategic plan, which aims to accelerate
programmes to empower women and to educate men on women's rights, the
government's plan said. -- Reuters
Draft AIDS plan hailed as far-sighted - Health -e
FACTBOX - South Africa's new HIV/AIDS plan - Reuters Alertnet http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/L14263581.htm