Each week, 2,000 women ages 15-24 are infected with HIV in South Africa. In poor communities, young women are mostly infected through sex with older men who provide for them and, while testing is easy and readily available, few men get tested until they are seriously ill.
“Men have told me that the reason for this is that the clinics are mostly staffed by women and that women talk too much,” said Dr Annette Houston, who works for Hope, an HIV outreach project with international Catholic funding.
Houston works at a pediatric HIV clinic in Delft, a township on the outskirts of Cape Town. She told CNS unless HIV-positive women and girls are taking antiretroviral drugs, if they contract HIV while breastfeeding they can pass on the virus to their babies. Houston said she sees an “urgent need to persuade breastfeeding women to come for testing every three months.”
In trying to get HIV-positive men to get treatment, Doctors Without Borders and other organisations have begun setting up HIV clinics primarily for men.
South Africa’s HIV epidemic is among the most severe in the world. According to UN estimates, 6.4 million people – 12.2 per cent of South Africa’s population – are HIV positive.
Dominican Sr Alison Munro, director of the AIDS office for the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference, said about 3.4 million people are on antiretroviral drugs.
The risk of HIV transmission is enormously reduced when those infected take antiretroviral drugs regularly, Sr Alison said in a telephone interview from Pretoria. Orphans and other vulnerable children are the main focus group of the AIDS office and “we are working on getting as many tested and on treatment” as possible, she said.
Picture: Pauline Jooste, who oversees a South African HIV outreach project with international Catholic funding, walks with Gerald Flagg, a community worker, at the organisation’s Blikkiesdorp premises near Cape Town on 15th November. (CNS photo/Bronwen Dachs).