South Africa's HIV prevalence rate has stabilised over the past six years, according to the government's latest survey of pregnant women, while the rate of new infections has continued to drop, indicating that the country's prevention efforts are beginning to take effect.
According to the 2011 National Antenatal Sentinel HIV Prevalence Survey, released on Monday by Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi, 29.5% of pregnant women attending state clinics in 2011 were HIV-positive.
The survey estimated that about 5.6-million people living in South Africa were HIV-positive in 2011.
Rate of new infections down
While the figure of 29.5% has remained constant over the last six years - it stood at 29.4% in 2007 - the rate of new infections in the country, represented by the prevalence rate among 15- to 19-year-olds, continued to drop, from 14% in 2010 to 12.7% in 2011.
The HIV prevalence rate among 15- to 24-year-olds also dropped, from 21.8% in 2010 to 20.5% in 2011.
However, HIV prevalence among women aged between 30 and 34 remained the highest, increasing from 41.5% in 2009 to 42.2% in 2011. Among 35- to 39-year-olds, the prevalence rate increased from 35.4% in 2009 to 39.4% in 2011.
Explaining the higher prevalence among older women, Motsoaledi said individuals in these age groups had become infected earlier in their lives, and were now moving into a higher age group, pushing up the prevalence rates.
"The good news is that we have broken down the upward movement in the 15-19 years group, meaning that prevention is starting to work," Motsoaledi said.
Variations among provinces
Among the provinces, KwaZulu-Natal, the province with the highest HIV prevalence, recorded a notable decrease between 2010 and 2011, from 39.5% to 37.4%. Gauteng also recorded a decrease over the same period, from 30.4% to 28.7%.
However, Mpumalanga (from 35.1% to 36.7%), the Free State (from 30.6% to 32.5%), North West (from 29.6% to 30.2%), and Limpopo (from 21.4% to 22.1%) all showed increases.
The Eastern Cape had a prevalence rate of 29.3% in 2011, while the Northern Cape (17%) and Western Cape (18.2%) were the only provinces with rates below 20%.
Motsoaledi said the increase in the Gert Sibande District in Mpumalanga was not surprising but very worrying, as 40% of the country's energy supply came from there.
"[Gert Sibande] needs a massive circumcision campaign, which they have not launched," he said, adding that the situation needed to be looked into.
Motsoaledi attributed the decline in KwaZulu-Natal to the hard work of the provincial branch of the National Aids Council, and the success of the government's HIV Counselling and Testing and circumcision campaigns.