Reuters Health (10.20.03) - Tuesday, October 21, 2003
Research released Monday and published in the African Journal
of AIDS Research suggests the AIDS epidemic in South Africa,
the nation with the highest HIV/AIDS caseload, may be leveling
off. Study authors Thomas Rehle, an independent US researcher,
and Olive Shisana, of South Africa's Human Sciences Research
Council (HSRC), developed a model based on South African
antenatal clinic seroprevalence data. They said the nation's
AIDS epidemic likely peaked in 2002 - when 4.69 million of
South Africa's 45 million people were living with the disease
- and would level off as fewer infections are recorded.
The epidemiological model uses data from South Africa's first
national HIV prevalence study, released in late 2002 by HSRC
and the Nelson Mandela Foundation.
The study projects that South Africa's annual AIDS-related
deaths will peak in 2008 at 487,320, before declining to about
470,000 in 2010. New HIV infections among people ages 15-49 -
a leading indicator of how the epidemic will progress - have
already dropped from 4.2 percent in 1997 to 1.7 percent in
2003. Overall HIV prevalence among people ages 15-49 is also
projected to drop from 17.3 percent in 2001 to an estimated
15.2 percent in 2010.
Earlier studies placed the incidence, prevalence and projected
death numbers much higher. A US Census Bureau report estimated
that as much as 37.9 percent of South Africa's sexually active
adult population could be HIV-positive by 2010, with more than
900,000 deaths annually.
Among factors the new study credits with the slowdown are
HIV/AIDS education and prevention programs that have led to
changes in sexual behavior, and the fact that death is quickly
thinning the ranks of the HIV-positive.
There is "still much uncertainty" about the course of the
epidemic, and the authors noted that South Africa's decision
to make antiretroviral treatment more widely available could
have a profound change on future numbers. They also cautioned
against interpreting the new, lower estimate as a sign the
country's problems might have been exaggerated.