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South Africa
reports success in AIDS fight

South Africa
reports success in AIDS fight

South African health minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang says the government strategy of cutting the rate of new HIV infections and extending antiretroviral treatment to those who need it is delivering "unprecedented" results.

"Overall HIV prevalence is no longer increasing as significantly as it was in the early 1990s," Tshabalala-Msimang told a consultative meeting ahead of South Africa's official HIV report to the United Nations. "Particularly encouraging is that the prevention messages regarding abstinence, faithfulness, and condom use are being taken to heart, particularly by the young."

South Africa has the world's largest HIV caseload, with an estimated 5 million people--or one in nine of the population--infected.

President Thabo Mbeki's government has come under fire from activists who say it has minimized both the extent of the epidemic and the efficacy of anti-HIV drugs.

At the meeting, Tshabalala-Msimang listed what she called the major achievements of the country's efforts, including an increase in the health department's AIDS budget from 264 million rand ($43 million U.S.) in 2001 to 1.5 billion rand ($245 million U.S.) last year. The government's public antiretroviral drugs program, which began in 2003 and is now the world's largest, is treating 100,000 patients. Tshabalala-Msimang said the program will expand with a total budget of over 3.4 billion rand ($554 million U.S.) through the end of 2007.

The country is also boosting its provision of free condoms and is encouraging the use of traditional medicines to support the immune system, Tshabalala-Msimang said.

Mbeki says he sees no "particularly alarming tendency" of AIDS deaths in the public sector. In response, the AIDS lobby group Treatment Action Campaign says, "The president's denialism contributes directly to delayed testing, prolonged illness, and premature deaths" of South Africans. (Reuters)

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