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South Africa's Teens in HIV Hell
Times Live
Katharine Child
July 17, 2014

South Africa has the second highest rate of AIDS deaths in the world - with teenage girls and young women being most at risk of HIV infection, according to a UN Aids report released yesterday.

It stated that 13% of all deaths from AIDS took place in South Africa, the second-highest number after Nigeria, where 14% of the Aids deaths in 2013 occurred.

South Africa has the highest number of people on antiretroviral drugs in the world, the highest number of people with HIV and the highest number of new infections in the last year.

About 16% of all HIV infections took place in South Africa.

The UN report differed from previous AIDS reports as it looked at who was most likely to contract HIV.

It found that sex workers were 12 times more likely to have HIV than non-sex workers.

Drug users were 28 times more likely to have HIV.

Most shockingly, as many as one in three women under 24 in South Africa are HIV-positive.

Experts who spoke at a press conference held in Johannesburg yesterday explained why young women remained hardest hit by the disease. "It is a perfect storm," said professor Helen Rees, director of the Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute.

She said that the risk factors included gender-based violence, sex with older men for survival, and a high incidence of sexually transmitted infections among young women.

The rates of STIs among young women were alarming, she said, adding that more needed to be done to tackle the epidemic holistically.

"We know keeping girls in schools helps. We know cash grants that allow them to stay in schools help.

"We need to look at how they can become pregnant safely."

Director of the Southern Africa Aids Trust Jonathan Gunthorp said that many girls in Africa were married at a very young age.

He also said it was a "common misconception" that women in rural areas were the hardest hit by HIV infection.

He said data showed women in slums and informal settlements are at highest risk of contracting HIV.

"Young women get preyed on sexually and there is silence at home and in the classroom about this and about sex.

"Old ways of talking about sex have dropped off and modernisation has not caught up. Most teachers are incapable of and unwilling to talk about HIV," Gunthorp said.

Other experts said that clinics were aimed mainly at children or adults and did not cater for adolescents, many of whom struggled to get contraception or medical treatment.

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