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Almost half of women working on farms around Limpopo and Mpumalanga are HIV positive, compared to only a third of the male workforce, a study revealed on Tuesday.

The study, conducted by the International Organisation on Migration, from March to May this year, focused on 23 farms in Malelane, Tzaneen and Musina.

The study found that an overall 39,5% of the farming workforce who anonymously gave blood specimens for testing are HIV positive. Women accounted for almost half, said Mark Colvin, who lead the research.

The 39,5% infection rate in these 23 farms was twice the UNAids (the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/Aids) national prevalence percentage of 18,1% in South Africa. It was also the highest HIV prevalence ever reported among a working population.

Colvin could not pin-point a single factor causing this high rate of HIV infection on these farms. He highlighted a multitude of factors such as multiple and concurrent partnerships, transactional sex, irregular condom use, presence of sexually transmitted infections and sexual violence.

Halving of new infections

According to a study released on Friday, South Africa could more than halve its new HIV infections in ten years, if it used the right programmes and funding.

But the report, undertaken at the request of the government, also warned that even with wise decision-making, about 5-million more South Africans would become infected over the next two decades.

The report was compiled by experts from the Cape Town-based Centre for Economic Governance on Aids in Africa, and the United States’ Results for Development Institute.

It said that with the right funding mix and programme choices, South Africa could reduce the number of new HIV infections “by more than half their current level” to less than 200 000 a year by 2020.

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The funding required to fight Aids in South Africa under the scenarios explored in the report would require a rise in spending from around R16-billion in 2009 to R28-billion – R35-billion by 2015/16.

South Africa, the report said, already accounted for nearly 15% of all Aids spending in low- and middle-income countries.

“It’s critical that the government of South Africa and other organisations at the national and international level involved in the fight against Aids mobilise around these financing issues,” said Robert Hecht, one of the report’s authors and managing director of Results for Development.

He said South Africa was acting to makes its Aids programmes as effective as possible in stopping new infections and saving lives. “[But] our analysis underscores the need for a long-term view and … use the money available for Aids as efficiently as possible over the next two decades or longer.

“Difficult and decisive choices need to be made now, that will have important consequences for years to come.”

The report said that under a continuation of the approach adopted in South Africa’s current national Aids plan, total costs from now to 2031 were estimated at R658-billion, with new infections falling only gradually to about 350 000 a year.

With a more ambitious and broad-based prevention policy, total costs might rise to R765-billion over the 20 year period, but the number of infections would fall to under 200 000 a year by 2031. — Sapa