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HIV rates drop in young South Africans -

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PETER CAVE: In South Africa today a new study has found the HIV infection rate has levelled off.

The researchers found there'd been a big increase in the percentage of young people aged 15 to 24
using condoms.

They say they're excited about the findings but caution that in some age groups the situation
remains dire, with one in three women between 25 and 29 infected.

Barbara Miller reports.

BARBARA MILLER: Overall there's little to be excited about.

More than five million South Africans are HIV positive.

But in the words of the Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi there's real light at the end of the
tunnel.

A national study by the Human Sciences Research Council has found the infection rate has levelled
off at around 11 per cent.

In the 2-14 age group the rate has more than halved from 5.6 per cent in 2002 to 2.5 per cent last
year.

There's also been a drop in infection rates in teenagers and young adults.

Dr Olive Shisana is the study's lead author.

OLIVE SHISANA: What we attribute, particularly the 15-19 year olds, we attribute that to the very
high increase in condom use in this young population.

The figures have increased dramatically from 2002 to 2008, especially among young males, as well as
young females.

BARBARA MILLER: Would you describe your findings as good news?

OLIVE SHISANA: Our findings are really good. I mean, we're really excited about what it is we're
finding, but we also are aware of the fact that there are still major HIV problems. While we are
seeing a decrease in the younger population, we're seeing an increase in the older population and
therefore we still need to redouble our efforts in terms of dealing with this epidemic.

BARBARA MILLER: When you say redouble, what do you mean? Use more of the same strategy, or do you
think new strategies also need to be implemented?

OLIVE SHISANA: We need to be looking at new approaches. For example, we may need to think about,
how do we deal with the question of people who have multiple sexual partners? How do we educate
them to change the social norms? We may have to adapt other strategies, such as have been used in
the area of anti-smoking campaigns, to see whether we can be able to change the social norms, and
begin to say, 'It's not really cool to have multiple sexual partners'.

BARBARA MILLER: Peter Fourie is a lecturer in Politics and International Relations at Macquarie
University who specialises in HIV/AIDS in South Africa.

He thinks above all political changes are behind the encouraging new statistics.

PETER FOURIE: It seems to me based on two aspects.

The first one is availability of anti retroviral drugs, which the Mbeki administration previously
and disastrously had opposed, which means that people transfer the epidemic less, they get help
sooner.

The other positive aspect flowing from that is people are more willing to get tested. So there is
now hope they can get access to this anti-AIDS medication, and previously that was not the case.

BARBARA MILLER: Do you think HIV AIDS has become destigmatised in South Africa?

PETER FOURIE: No, it's not gone - the stigma isn't gone at all. I think if you're travelling to
deepest, darkest provincial South Africa you will still be stoned to death, as people were, even
within this last decade, due to their HIV-positive status.

So it depends on the way you go, but it certainly has become less politicised, due to the departure
of Mbeki and his absolutely disastrous and obscene intervention in the debate around the virology
of AIDS in South Africa.

BARBARA MILLER: While the overall trend is good, there are huge variations in the rates of
infection.

In the poorer Kwa-Zulu Natal and Eastern Cape provinces the rates are much higher.

And across the country a staggering one in three women aged 25 to 29 is HIV positive.

Young women with older partners are particularly at risk:

Lead author Dr Olive Shisana.

OLIVE SHISANA: It's not easy for a young girl to have to convince the older man that they must use
condoms, particularly that our data shows that the knowledge levels among older people are not as
high as they are among younger people.

BARBARA MILLER: One positive for these women is that the greater availability of anti-retrovirals
is helping reduce the rates of transmission to their children.