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Department’s HIV drop report treated with some caution

Resource type: News

Cape Argus (South Africa) |

The Health Department has reported a drop in HIV prevalence in its annual survey – but researchers warn that it’s too soon to tell. “The findings suggest that the South African epidemic is on a downward trend,” Minister of Health Manto Tshabala-la-Msimang said in her department’s National HIV and Syphilis Prevalence Survey South Africa for 2007. The report surveys HIV prevalence among pregnant women attending state ante-natal clinics. Tshabalala-Msimang said HIV prevalence among women aged 15 to 24 continued to show a “significant” decline. “A decline in this age group is suggestive of a decline in HIV incidence and is a good indicator of the impact of in-tervention programmes,” she said. Professor Thomas Rehle, of the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), said at least three surveys were needed before a trend could be identified. Although the survey had been carried out since 1990, the methodology had changed for the 2006 report, so this was only the second survey using that methodology. Rehle said researchers had changed the sampling for the 2006 survey to increase the number of women included in it, which could have affected the results. “They doubled the sample size,” Rehle pointed out. Also, by increasing the sample size, the researchers may have included more rural populations. “This could have influenced the data,” said Rehle, a director in the social aspects of HIV/Aids and health research programme at the HSRC. The Treatment Action Campaign welcomed the evidence of a decline in new infections among the youth, but was concerned about the effect of the changed methodology on the results. TAC spokesperson Lesley Odendal said it wasn’t wrong for the department to change its methodology, but this should have been clearly spelt out in the report. “The minister of health has touted the drop in HIV prevalence as a success. Her claims must be treated with scepticism,” she said. But she said the apparent decline in prevalence among young people was a good sign.

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AIDS, HIV, TAC, Treatment Action Campaign