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AFRO-NETS> Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report - Wed, 21 Mar 2001

Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report - Wed, 21 Mar 2001

* One in Nine South Africans Living With HIV, Government Survey Shows
* Some Catholic Priests Sexually Abuse Nuns, Sometimes to Avoid HIV
  Infection, Reports Say
* TAC 'Demands' HIV/AIDS Treatment Plan from South African Government

One in Nine South Africans Living With HIV, Government Survey Shows

One in nine South Africans is HIV-positive, up from the previous es-
timate of one in ten, according to a new survey released yesterday by 
the South African government, the Associated Press reports. The 
study, based on a sampling of 16,000 women at 400 antenatal clinics 
nationwide, estimates that 4.7 million South Africans were HIV-
positive at the end of 2000, compared to the previous estimate of 4.2 

The rate of infection rose among women ages 20 to 34 and declined 
slightly among women under 20 and those over 35 since 1999. For women 
ages 20 to 24, the rate of infection increased from 25.6% to 29.1%. 
The rate of infection increased among women ages 25 to 29 from 26.4% 
to 30.6% and among women ages 30 to 34 from 21.7% to 23.3%. Infection 
rates among women under 20 years old decreased from 16.5% to 16.1%, a 
finding that was "consistent" with a previous survey that found con-
dom use is higher among teenagers than among other age groups (Asso-
ciated Press, 3/20). 

Although the survey reflected a decrease in infection rates among the 
youngest survey group, officials point out that the rates are still 
high and "indicat[e] [prevention] programs have not reached extremely 
effective levels," Dr. Bernhard Scwartlander, a senior epidemiologist 
with UNAIDS, said. The increases in infections among those in their 
twenties demonstrates that "[t]he positive behavior that women start 
adapting in teenaged years is not sustained," Dr. Rose Mulumba, dep-
uty director of the public health service, said. Health officials be-
lieve women in their twenties may have a "false sense of security" 
about their infection risk because they are married or in long term 

Reason for Optimism?

Although some infection rates increased, government officials said 
they were "optimistic that the epidemic might be reaching its peak" 
(Swarns, New York Times, 3/21). "We are no longer seeing the exponen-
tial increases of earlier years and the flattening of the curve over 
three years begins to suggest that the prevalence of HIV in the popu-
lation may be stabilizing," Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang 
said (Swindells, Reuters Health, 3/20). 

But the announcement of the figures "dashed the hopes" of AIDS ex-
perts, who said that the numbers imply that officials were "failing 
to dissuade thousands of young people from engaging in risky sexual 
behavior" (New York Times, 3/21). Demographic experts predict that as 
many as six million South African will die from AIDS-related compli-
cations by the end of the decade, a toll that threatens to cut the 
country's gross domestic product by 17% and "wipe US$ 22 billion off 
the national economy," Reuters Health reports (Reuters Health, 3/20). 
The percentage of infected adults rose "sharply" in the KwaZulu/Natal 
and Gauteng provinces (New York Times, 3/21).

Some Catholic Priests Sexually Abuse Nuns, Sometimes to Avoid HIV
Infection, Reports Say

Nuns around the world have suffered sexual abuse by priests, some-
times resulting in pregnancy and abortion, but church leaders have 
"fail[ed] ... to discipline" the clerics involved, the New York Times 
reports. According to five reports written by senior members of 
women's religious orders and a priest, cases of sexual abuse against 
nuns have been reported in at least 23 countries. 

In one report, Sister Maura O'Donohue, a physician and a member of 
the Medical Missionaries of Mary, wrote that women were "forced" by 
priests into sexual liaisons in order to obtain certificates or rec-
ommendations needed for work in a diocese. O'Donohue also recorded 
cases where nuns were "recommend[ed]" by priests to take contracep-
tion, sometimes being told that oral contraceptives would prevent the 
transmission of HIV. 

The report included "disturbing" accounts of nuns impregnated by 
priests, including one case in Malawi where 29 sisters in one congre-
gation became pregnant by priests in the diocese. Another example ex-
plained the case of a nun who became pregnant by a priest and was 
brought by that priest to a Catholic health institution to undergo an 
abortion. After the nun died during the procedure, the priest per-
formed her funeral mass, O'Donohue wrote (Hedges, New York Times, 
3/21). The National Catholic Reporter said that "no comprehensive 
statistics" exist on the sexual abuse of nuns, but the "frequency and 
consistency of the reports ... point to a problem that needs to be 
addressed" (AP/Washington Times, 3/21).

AIDS and Africa

While the reports documented incidents of abuse in a number of coun-
tries, much of the abuse was linked to Africa and the continent's 
AIDS epidemic, the New York Times reports. The priests in Africa of-
ten live in "isolated" areas, and fear contracting HIV from prosti-
tutes and "other high-risk groups." Many perceive nuns as "safe sex-
ual partners" who do not carry the virus, the New York Times reports 
(New York Times, 3/21). 

African attitudes toward celibacy and the "tradition of female sub-
servience" in Africa also contribute to the spread of abuse, the 
AP/Washington Times reports (AP/Washington Times, 3/21). O'Donohue 
said that in some African countries, "priests have a liberal inter-
pretation of celibacy," adding that one priest once said that celi-
bacy "in the African context" barred priests from getting married, 
but not from having children (New York Times, 3/21). In Africa, 
priests are often "better educated than the nuns," and sometimes use 
"false theological arguments to persuade them [to have sex], suggest-
ing, for example, that sex between two celibate religious [people] 
does not violate their vows of celibacy," a report by Sister Marie 
McDonald, superior general of the Missionaries of Our Lady of Africa, 
stated (Willan, London Guardian, 3/21).

Vatican Response

The authors of the reports noted that church leaders often failed to 
punish or reprimand priests for incidents of abuse. In her report, 
O'Donohue wrote that while the priests involved in sexual incidents 
were "usually given mild reprimands," the nuns were often "forced out 
of the order." And when one superior general "complained" to an 
archbishop about incidents of sexual abuse, she was replaced. 

Rev. Robert Vitillo, executive director of the United States Bishops 
Campaign for Human Development, wrote in a 1994 report, "I myself 
have heard the tragic stories of religious women who were forced to 
have sex with the local priest or with a spiritual counselor who in-
sisted that this activity was 'good' for the both of them. Fre-
quently, attempts to raise these issues with local and international 
church authorities have met with deaf ears" (New York Times, 3/21). 

The Vatican yesterday "acknowledged" the reports, but added that the 
incidents of sexual abuse are "restricted to a certain geographic 
area," without clarification (Reuters/Washington Post, 3/21). Vatican 
spokesperson Joaquin Navarro-Valls said, "Work is being done both on 
the training of people and the resolution of individual cases" (New 
York Times, 3/21). He added, however, that "[s]ome negative cases 
cannot let us forget the often heroic faith expressed by the large 
majority of those men and women in religious orders and of the 
clergy" (Mangan, New York Post, 3/21).


TAC 'Demands' HIV/AIDS Treatment Plan from South African Government

The Treatment Action Campaign, a South African AIDS activist group, 
intends to "pressure" the nation's government into creating an 
HIV/AIDS treatment plan this year, TAC Chair Zackie Achmat told SABC 
radio on Monday (WOZA Internet, 3/19). The organization wants the 
government to publish a "comprehensive plan" for providing treatment, 
including a strategy for raising funds from international sources, 
such as the Group of Seven nations, and a "timetable for bringing the 
drugs to public clinics and ensuring they are administered properly" 
(Schoofs, Wall Street Journal, 3/21). 

Achmat's announcement comes a day after the opening of TAC's first 
National Congress in Soweto on Sunday, with 169 organizations regis-
tered as participants. According to TAC's Web site, "Over the last 
two years, the TAC has built the foundations for a formidable mass 
movement to fight for access to treatment. ... With political will 
and a united front the obstacles to treatment access and decent 
health care for all people can be overcome. The TAC's first National 
Congress will provide an opportunity for civil society to pave the 
way forward to affordable treatment for all." 

Speaking about TAC's application to be a Friend of the Court at the 
side of the government in the lawsuit filed by 39 pharmaceutical com-
panies against the country over drug patent rights, Achmat said, "Our 
role is a supportive one, but also one of advocacy. We support gov-
ernment for wanting to create a framework that will address the unac-
countability of the pharmaceutical industry" (Harvey, WOZA Internet, 
3/19). Before TAC was formed, "few if any" organizations in South Af-
rica "championed treating the country's HIV patients with the anti-
retroviral drugs" that have significantly reduced mortality rates 
from AIDS in developing nations. TAC is also currently working with 
the government on implementing a "treatment literacy campaign" to 
help educate patients about drug therapies (Wall Street Journal, 

The Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report is published for, 
a free service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, by National 
Journal Group Inc. c 2001 by National Journal Group Inc. and Kaiser 
Family Foundation. All rights reserved. 

Cecilia Snyder

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