SUNDAY TIMES: Huge drop in HIV infections

by Claire Keeton: NEW HIV infections in South Africa dropped by 35% between 2002 and 2008, a study reveals. The most striking reduction was a 60% decline among 15 to 24-year-olds.

These results — obtained from analysing three national HIV household surveys conducted in South Africa in 2002, 2005 and 2008 — confirm the initial findings of the 2008 survey: SA National HIV Prevalence, Incidence, Behaviour and Communications Smvey: A Turning Tide Among Teenagers?

They provide the first scientific proof that HIV prevention campaigns in South Africa, promoting condom use and HIV testing, are making a dent in the high rate of new infections. “Behaviour change has definitely helped to reduce incidence among young women,” said Professor Thomas Rehle, the lead author of the paper published this week in PLôS One, an open access scientific journal.

HIV incidence may be declining, but South Africa already has a high prevalence of HIV, with about one in seven adults (15%) infected by the virus.

Dr Nono Simelela, chief executive of the SA National Aids Council, said the latest findings were important.

"“They suggest we are making progress with behaviour change and treatment. But oi irs is a mature epiclemic
and the pool of HIV-positive people is already high.”"

Simelela suggested the goal of halving new infections — a target in the national HI V-Aids Strategic Plan 2007-
2011 —was ambitious.

Dr Sue Goldstein from Soul City said the 2008 survey had hinted at a decrease in incidence and the latest analysis was good news.

I think the decrease, especially in the younger group, means that all the education and communication is coming to fruition.

"“We do know that there has been a huge increase in the use of condoms among the youth particularly and this, with other safer sexual practices, is starting to show an effect."

“We cannot let up, and it is important that older people take their role modelling seriously and focus on all safer sexual behaviours.

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