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Cape Town - A highly respected study has found deaths of young children from Aids have decreased more than tenfold in the past decade in South Africa.

Published in The Lancet on Tuesday, the study was conducted by an international consortium of researchers led by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington.

“More people die from HIV/Aids in South Africa than anywhere else in the world but substantial progress has been made in saving young children from the disease, according to a new, first-of-its-kind analysis of trend data,” said Andre Pascal Kengne of the South African Medical Research Council.

The data demonstrated “the need to be diligent in prevention and treatment efforts to decrease incidence and mortality rates for all age groups”.

Washington University explained: “Researchers found the scale-up of interventions for HIV/Aids – including antiretroviral therapy, programmes to prevent mother-to-child transmission and the promotion of condom use – have helped drive reductions in years of life lost to the disease, particularly in more recent years.

“HIV/Aids is increasingly a condition people live with rather than die from, and the world has added nearly 20 million life years as a result of these programmes.

The university reported that in South Africa, it was likely that expanded access to child-focused interventions had contributed to preventing new HIV infections and deaths among children under five years old.

There were over 56 000 new HIV/Aids infections recorded for this age group in 2003 but 10 years later, that number had fallen to 7 611.

Dr Christopher Murray, IHME director and one of the authors of the study, said: “The global investment in HIV treatment is saving lives at a rapid clip. But the quality of antiretroviral programmes varies widely. In order to reduce HIV-related deaths even further, we need to learn from the best programmes and do away with the worst ones.”

The study also found that TB and malaria were killing fewer South Africans than in 2000, when the Millennium Development Goals were established to stop the spread of these diseases by next year.

“Of these three diseases, South Africa has shown the greatest gains against malaria, recording a 13 percent decline in malaria mortality rates from 2000 to 2013. By contrast, the global rate of decline was 3 percent during this time.

“The country aims to eliminate malaria by 2018,” the study reported.

Cape Argus