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HEALTH: South Africa Could Half HIV Infections


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By Jon Herskovitz

JOHANNESBURG, Nov 19 (Reuters) - South Africa could cut the number of new HIV infections to below 200,000 a year by 2020, more than half the current level, with the right policies, but reaching the goal will be costly, a report on Friday said.

South Africa has the most infected people of any country in the world with 5.7 million with HIV, according to data from the U.N. programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS). Around 18 percent of South Africans aged between 15 and 49 are infected.

"This situation poses huge financial dangers and risks for the country, particularly at a time when South Africa is feeling the negative effects of the global economic recession," the report said.

The report recommends drawing up and funding more effective plans for prevention, treatment and halting the transmission of the virus from infected parents to their children.

Even if it implements these plans, a further 5 million more South Africans will be infected with HIV over the next two decades, according to the report from the Centre for Economic Governance and AIDS in Africa and the Results for Development Institute.

The government has allocated several billion dollars a year for treatment, prevention and drugs aimed at keeping HIV infections in check.

Total costs over the next two decades to reduce the number of new infections are estimated to be as much as $102 billion if the country steps up spending on drugs, increases the number of those receiving treatment and plans to prevent the spread of the disease, the report said.

"South Africa is beginning to make important inroads in its efforts to slow the number of new infections and bring life saving treatment to those who need it", said Robert Hecht, one of the report's authors and managing director of the Results for Development Institute.

UNAIDS said access to treatment for the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) -- an incurable viral infection that causes AIDS and infects around 33.4 million people around the world -- has increased 12-fold in six years, and 5.2 million people are now getting the drugs they need.

Sub-Saharan Africa remains the region hardest hit by HIV, accounting for 67 percent of all people living with the virus worldwide, 71 percent of AIDS-related deaths and 91 percent of all new infections among children.

African nations whose populations have been devastated by AIDS have made big strides in fighting HIV, with new infections down 25 percent since 2001 in some of the worst hit places, a recent U.N. report said. (Editing by Jon Boyle)

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