The United Nations has called for renewed commitment to protect the health of young girls in South Africa, but has commended its efforts to stem HIV transmission, the department of women, children and people with disabilities said on Sunday.
The UN High Level Taskforce on Women, Girls, Gender Equality and HIV for Eastern and Southern Africa concluded a one-week mission in South Africa.
"South Africa has done a commendable job in significantly reducing transmission of HIV from pregnant women to their newborns," said Naomi Shaban, Kenyan Minister of Gender, Children and Social Development and the delegation's leader.
South Africa had decreased mother-to-child transmission of HIV from 3.5% in 2010 to 2.7% last year. It was well on its way to eliminating this aspect of HIV/Aids by 2015, in line with a commitment made last year.
Improvement needed to be done
Shaban acknowledged the improvement, but said more needed to be done to keep mothers alive. This, together with the elimination of new HIV infection among children dominated a discussion between the taskforce and Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi.
South Africa should also take steps to protect the health of young girls. "Prevention of unplanned pregnancies and HIV infection in young girls must be a major priority of the South African government," said taskforce member Sheila Tlou, who is the regional director of UNAIDS.
The department of basic education found that one percent of female school pupils fell pregnant in 2009/10, equating to approximately 89 390 girls. "Keeping girls in school is the best thing we can do to reduce new infections among girls and women and help them to reach their potential," said Tlou.
Gender-based violence remained a major challenge in South Africa. Hate crimes, particularly corrective rape of lesbians, created a climate of fear and drove communities underground, fuelling HIV infection.
The taskforce had been invited to conduct an independent assessment of South Africa's progress towards the Accelerated Agenda for Women and Girls on HIV and Aids, which the government signed in 2010. This work would help the government identify gaps and challenges, in order to develop more effective intervention programmes.
(Sapa, October 2012)
UN: World should reduce Aids deaths by 2015
Management of HIV/Aids