Presidential AIDS Panel to meet next week

While government make final preparations to host the final meeting of President Thabo Mbeki’€™s international AIDS panel, tasked with discussing the link between HIV and AIDS and anti-HIV therapies, UNAIDS has revealed that South Africa has the largest number of people living with HIV/AIDS (4,2-million).

According to the report the effects of the epidemic are becoming increasingly visible in the hardest hit region of all, sub-Saharan Africa, where HIV is now deadlier than war itself. In 1998, 200 000 Africans died in war, but more than 2 million died of AIDS.

Mbeki’€™s AIDS panel will meet for the last time on Monday and Tuesday in Sandton, Johannesburg.

According to a letter sent to the panelists by the Health Department’€™s Ray Mabope, Monday’s discussions should focus on the “aetiology” of HIV, prevention, treatment as well as testing and surveillance

“This (meeting) will not be an opportunity to rehash arguments. This time should rather be used to present the critical facts on the subject, taking into account the broad range of opinions expressed, both during the inaugural meeting and the Internet discussion, and focusing the presentation mainly on recommendations to the Government of South Africa government, within the local context and situation,” Mabope wrote.

A presentation on the panel’€™s work will also be made by the task team comprising of Prof William Makgoba, Dr Helene Gayle, Dr Harvey Bialy and Prof Peter Duesberg.

A total of 37 panelists have confirmed that they will attend the final meeting while a further eight have yet to confirm.

The UNAIDS report found that in most sub-Saharan countries adults and children were acquiring HIV at a higher rate than ever before.

Altogether, there are now 16 countries in which more than one tenth of the adult population aged 15-49 is infected with HIV.

In Botswana, a shocking 35,8% of adults are now infected with HIV, while in South Africa, 19,9% are infected, up from 12,9% just two years ago.

The report also found that infection rates in young African women were far higher than in young men.

According to studies presented in the report, the average rates in teenage girls were over five times higher than in teenage boys.

Among young people in their early 20s, the rates were three times higher in women.

In Africa, women’s peak infection rates occur at earlier ages than men’s do.

“This helps explain why there are an estimated 12 women living with HIV for every 10 men in this region,” the report said.

UNAIDS said that high and stable HIV prevalence rates were bad news. “But there is worse news. Prevalence rates do not reflect the true impact of the epidemic. The 15-49 year age group includes people who are not yet infected with HIV, but will be one day.

“And it excludes men and women born 15-49 years ago who were infected with HIV, but have already died.”

The report said that the proportion of young people who will die of AIDS is appallingly high in many countries. In virtually any country where 15% or more of all adults are currently infected with HIV, at least 35% of boys now aged 15 will die of AIDS.


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