The AIDS epidemic in southern Africa shows “no evidence of a decline”, according to the annual UNAIDS Global Report for 2005 released this week.

An estimated 5.5-million South Africans were living with HIV last year, almost one in five (18.8%) people aged between 15 and 49, according to the UN body.

Almost one third of pregnant women attending South African antenatal clinics were HIV positive – but less than 15% were getting antiretroviral treatment to prevent them from passing the virus on to their babies.

While treatment for HIV positive adults was significantly better, only about one in five (21%) of those who needed treatment were getting it.

The international target for 2005 was to reach at least half of all those who needed treatment.

The life expectancy of the average South African is now a mere 47 years for men and 49 years for women.

“Exceptionally high levels of HIV prevalence” were also found in Swaziland, Botswana and Namibia, with no signs of the epidemic slowing down.

In Swaziland, one in three people aged 15 to 49 are estimated to be HIV positive, while in Botswana almost a quarter of this group is infected.

Lesotho’s epidemic seems to have stabilised at over one in five (23.2%) adults infected, but HIV is spreading fast in Mozambique, particularly in areas linked to neighbouring states by major transport routes.

While the prevalence of AIDS in North Africa is “very low” (less than 1%), sub-Saharan Africa remains the “epicentre” of the epidemic, said UNAIDS.

Here, some 9% of children under the age of 15 are estimated to have lost one or both parents.

“Evidence from Uganda shows that a child who drops out of school is three times more likely to be HIV-positive in his or her twenties than a child who completes basic education,” says the report.

While 21 out of the 25 countries have dropped or eliminated school fees for orphans and vulnerable children in a bid to keep them in school, fewer than one in ten children get basic support services and orphans still lag far behind non-orphans in school attendance.

However, on a more positive note, among the 25 low-income countries in sub-Saharan Africa, government spending on AIDS has increased by 130% since 2001.

Kerry Cullinan

Health-E News service

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