Almost half of today’s 15-year olds will become infected with HIV during the course of their lifetimes, according to the Actuarial Society of South Africa.

These figures may seem unbelievable, but they are conservative by comparison with those of international agencies such as the US Bureau of the Census, says Rob Dorrington, Professor of Actuarial Science at the University of Cape Town.

According to Dr Malcolm Steinberg, Director of Apt Associates South Africa, it is important to unpack these frightening figures in order to make sense of them.

The reason the figure is so high, says Steinberg, is that it is a cumulative risk over time. By the time the 15-year olds of today reach the age of 60, 45% will have become infected at some point in their lives. This is not to say that 45% of 15 year olds are HIV infected today.

Dorrington argues that successful prevention efforts could still significantly decrease these figures.

But even if all future infections could be prevented, between five and six million South Africans will still die of AIDS by 2010. These are the people who have been infected already, says Dorrington.

“South Africa has all the ingredients to suggest that the HIV/AIDS epidemic in this country could be the most explosive and extensive of any country in the world,” says Dorrington.

“Before HIV, the probability of dying before the age of 60 was 30%. Now, it’s gone up to 75%. And the increase about 45% – is due to AIDS,” says Prof Dorrington.

The model used by Dorrington, called ASSA600, is based on national ante-natal clinic prevalence results from 1990 until now. Thus far, the model has performed extremely well in predicting the future course of the epidemic.

“If anything, the model may underestimate the prevalence in the population in that the most recent antenatal result [22.4%] was some 2% higher than predicted by the model,” says Dorrington.  Health-e News.