A woman uses an oral test for HIV. File picture: Jacquelyn Martin

Cape Town clinics carry the greatest HIV burden in the province, with more than 70 percent of HIV-infected pregnant women residing in the metropole, the latest figures for national HIV prevalence show.

According to the findings of the annual national antenatal sentinel HIV and syphilis survey, the Cape metro recorded a slight decrease of 0.4 percent, from 20.2 percent in 2010 to 19.8 percent last year.

Although the Overberg and Central Karoo have smaller numbers of pregnant women with HIV than other districts in the province, their antenatal HIV prevalence rates increased last year.

In the Overberg, the proportion of pregnant women who were HIV-positive rose from 17.3 percent in 2010 to 21.4 percent last year

Prevalence on the West Coast has remained below 10 percent for the past four years.

The annual national survey, carried out by the Department of Health since the 1990s, found that the Western Cape and Northern Cape were the only provinces where the prevalence rate was below 20 percent.

The province’s HIV prevalence was 18.2 percent, slightly down from 18.5 percent in 2010, while the Northern Cape’s was 17.7 percent.

The study focuses on pregnant women visiting public clinics across South Africa. If a woman agrees, blood samples are collected anonymously and identified by a barcode, not the patient’s name.

In the latest study, which analysed blood samples from 33 446 women across the country seeking antenatal assistance for the first time, it was found that 29.5 percent were HIV-positive – down 0.7 percent from the 30.2 percent in 2010.

KwaZulu-Natal had the highest prevalence rate, 37.4 percent, followed by Mpumalanga with 34.6 percent, the Free State with about 31 percent and North West with about 30 percent. The Eastern Cape, Gauteng and Limpopo had prevalence rates of between 20 and 30 percent.

Professor Linda-Gail Bekker, head of the Desmond Tutu HIV Centre at UCT, said the survey was a “useful tool for watching the trends” and hot spots of increasing HIV transmission.

“The survey tells us… how many people are infected with HIV at a particular clinic, [and] the number of people who got newly infected this year,” she said.

“These increases in prevalence may, of course, also indicate increased incidence in some areas.

“[The annual survey] is very important in that it alerts the national Department of Health, the provincial authorities and researchers to where more work needs to be done, to understand drivers of the increased prevalence.” - Cape Argus