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28 March 2013

South African Girls: HIV-Positively Stunning & Tragic

For the “My End-of-the-World-Disaster Isn’t As Bad As Your End-of-the-World-Disaster” file:

By Grethe Koen of Mail & Guardian, “Africa’s Best Read”

According to Minister of Health Aaron Motsoeldi there are no statistics available on national figures of HIV prevelance amongh young girls.

Last week the Mail & Guardian used a South African Press Association (Sapa) article on its site incorrectly stating that 28% of South Africa's schoolgirls were infected by HIV, compared with 4% of schoolboys.

But the fact-checking organisation, Africa Check, reported that Motsoaledi's speech at a "taking Parliament to the people event" in Carolina in Mpumalanga was misinterpreted by a Sowetan journalist and was then re-reported by other news companies and agencies.

Motsoaledi said on Friday the statistics that were incorrectly quoted were on an HIV testing and counselling campaign, which actually found a small number of schools in the Natal Midlands were particularly hard-hit by HIV. Of the group of children tested there, 28% of girls were infected by the disease compared to 4% of boys.

"That journalist did not go and verify the statistics," said Motsoaledi. "If you hear [a figure] that drastic, verify it before running to print."

Agencies such as the UK's Independent, Al Jazeera, and China's Xinhua also ran stories reporting that "a third of South Africa's schoolgirls have HIV.”

The figure gained momentum through social media sites Facebook and Twitter and became a hot topic on Redi Tlhabi's show on 702 Talk Radio.

So what is the real statistic?
The department of health's National Antenatal Sentinel HIV & Syphilis Prevalence Survey reported that HIV prevalence among young women aged between 15 and 19 was at around 12.7% in 2011, a decrease in the previous year's figure of 14%.

But this figure reported on only those girls who visited clinics to be documented.

Since HIV/Aids testing has not been performed on school children on a national level, it is difficult to say what the real prevalence of HIV is among this demographic.

Barbarah Klugman of the Wits School for Public Health said the reason there were no official statistics was because undertaking a survey on a national level would be an extraordinarily expensive feat.

Moreover, although figures were important and should not be misreported on, knowing what the real figure was would not change the fact that South Africa has a massive HIV problem and the implications of the disease for the country was huge, said Klugman.

Ms Koen, could “Africa’s Best Read” sustain a decrease of either 28% or 12.7% in readership?  Never mind, with a circulation of a whole 45,000, that’s like asking “If a pygmy hippo ‘goes to see a man about a dog’ in the forest and no one is around to see it, does it still smell?”  It’s doubtful anyone would notice or care about your circulation, but the infection rate of girls in South Africa is of epically tragic proportions at either level.

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