A key feature of South Africa's HIV epidemic where 5.7 million
people are positive is that among the 15 - 24 year olds infected,
women and girls account for more than 90% of new infections. This
needs a special focus on this group when designing prevention
programmes, says UNAIDS.
The HIV/AIDS epidemic in South Africa is stabilising, according
to a report released last week by the Joint United Nations'
Programme on HIV/AIDS. This means that there has not been a
recognisable increase in the rate of new infections over the last
few years. Instead, the infection rate has remained relatively
constant. This, however, does not mean that the epidemic is
declining as the country still holds the unenviable world's
number one position in the stakes of the total number of people
living with HIV. The fact that women and girls continue to be
disproportionately infected points to a failure of HIV programmes
in addressing the issues that place females at risk of HIV
infection, says the United Nations' Special Envoy on AIDS in
Africa, Elizabeth Mataka.
"I think time has come for us to be bold and attack and question
some of those cultural norms and practices that drive this
epidemic and make women more vulnerable to infection - the issues
of inter-generational sex, for example; issues of tolerance of
male promiscuity, for example", she declared.
Mark Stirling, Director of the Joint United Nations' Programme on
HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), in east and southern Africa, agreed and added
that there is an urgent need to reverse the pattern of HIV
infection in women and girls.
"The changing of that vulnerability to HIV infection requires
targeting of young women, but also requires targeting of older
men. And that requires a questioning of social norms which allow
older men to maintain sexual relationships with young women", he
This must be done as a matter of urgency despite news from UNAIDS
last week that the country's epidemic is stabilising.
"This is not the time for complacency... The challenges are
there. We need to keep on talking about them. We need to
recognise them and we need to continue to find new ways of
dealing with those challenges," said special envoy Elizabeth