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AIDS shrinks life span of half S. African teens

/ Source: The Associated Press

Fewer than half of South Africa's 15-year-olds will live to see their 60th birthday because of HIV/AIDS, according to a new report.

An estimated 950 people died per day during 2006 from AIDS-related diseases and a further 1,400 were infected each day — a total of 530,000 new infections, said the report by the Actuarial Society of South Africa and the Medical Research Council.

The report, issued every two years and widely used as a model for predicting the course of the disease and its impact, included an estimate that 5.4 million of South Africa's 48 million people were infected with the AIDS virus by the middle of 2006 — a figure in line with the government's own estimates issued earlier this year.

Only India is believed to have more people infected with HIV than South Africa.

The report said life expectancy dropped from 63 in 1990 to 51 in 2006. In the hardest hit province of KwaZulu-Natal, it was as low as 43.

"The Demographic Impact of HIV/AIDS in South Africa: National and Provincial Indicators for 2006" said that 15-year-olds had a 56 percent chance of dying before the age of 60, compared to a 29 percent chance of dying in 1990.

"The youth of today are facing a bleak future, and much still needs to be done to protect and support this vulnerable group," said Leigh Johnson, one of the authors of the report.

The South African government, long under fire for doing too little to prevent the spread of AIDS and to promote effective treatments, recently revamped its strategy. It gave responsibility to Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ncguka and effectively sidelined Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, who has been criticized for praising garlic, lemons and the African potato as remedies while disparaging the benefits of antiretroviral medicines.

Mlambo-Ncguka is due to unveil a plan for prevention, care and treatment of HIV/AIDS in 2007-2011 at World AIDS Day ceremonies on Friday. The final five-year plan will be released in March, to allow time for activist groups, who were previously ignored by the government, to have their say.

The new report said high rates of AIDS mortality will persist in South Africa at least for the next decade, but much depended on the provision of treatment. It forecast that if 50 percent of people with AIDS were given treatment, then by 2010 approximately 388,000 AIDS deaths would occur each year.

This compared to approximately 291,000 deaths if 90 percent of people progressing to AIDS started treatment.

The report said approximately 230,000 HIV-infected individuals were receiving antiretroviral treatment by mid-2006, and a further 540,000 were sick with AIDS but not receiving any therapy.