South Sudan has seen a drop in the rate of infection with HIV/AIDS, government statistics released Thursday show, but the world's newest nation has a long way to go to achieve its goal of zero new infections and zero AIDS-related deaths by 2017.
HIV/AIDS prevalence was 2.6 percent in 2012, down from three percent two years earlier, according to data released by the health ministry.
The chair of the government’s HIV Commission, Esterina Novelo Nyilok, said that the reduction in infections is a great achievement for the young country, but more effort and funding are needed to significantly reduce the prevalence of the virus.
She called the "lack of funds to purchase drugs for infected people’’ the most significant challenge facing South Sudan, which she said aims to have zero HIV infection, zero discrimination and zero HIV-related deaths by 2017.
The data showing the drop in HIV infection are extrapolated from a survey conducted every 2 to 3 years by the health ministry to monitor the trend of HIV and syphilis infections in pregnant women at antenatal care facilities.
The 2012 rate of HIV infection is the lowest reported in South Sudan since the survey was first conducted in 2007.
The survey shows that where a person lives, their level of education and marital status are important risk factors for HIV infection.
Western Equatoria has the highest infection rate, at 6.8 percent, followed by Eastern Equatoria with 3.4 percent.
The lowest infection rates are in Northern Bahr el Ghazal with 0.3 percent and Warrap, Jonglei and Unity states, with 1.3 percent each.
An infection rate above one percent is considered a generalized epidemic.