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AIDS up 6 percent in South Africa
  CAPE TOWN, South Africa (Reuters) - The number of South Africans carrying the virus that causes AIDS rose in 2003 but the rate of infection especially among teenagers was stabilizing, the government said in a report released Thursday.
The Department of Health estimated that 5.6 million of the country's 45 million population carried HIV, the virus that causes AIDS -- up 6 percent from 5.3 million in 2002.
South Africa, the continent's economic powerhouse, has more people living with HIV/AIDS than any other country in the world, with hundreds of thousands dead.
"The findings of the 2003 antenatal survey show that the HIV prevalence rates remain high in South Africa," the department said, adding data suggested the epidemic was "slowly stabilizing."
The government report found about 100,000 babies contracted the virus from their mothers in 2003, or more than 260 a day. About 28 percent of pregnant women were HIV positive, up from 26.5 percent in 2002, the report said.
The department said while infections continued to increase, rates were leveling off.
"Stability observed particularly among teenagers and the non-significant difference between the national figures for HIV prevalence for 2002 to 2003 all point to an epidemic in stabilization phase," the report said.
The report found HIV prevalence was highest in the 25-to-29 age group, while there was a marginal increase in infections among people younger than 20, considered to be the best barometer of the infection rate.
South African President Thabo Mbeki's government announced last year it would provide life-prolonging antiretrovirals in the public health sector after long resisting activists' pressure to roll-out the drugs.
The state is targeting 53,000 people to be on treatment by March next year, but a shortage of drugs and poor infrastructure is hampering distribution. The department said an estimated 3.1 million women carried the virus compared to 2.4 million men in South Africa.
The report was based on a study of prevalence of HIV and syphilis among pregnant women attending antenatal care in the public health system in October 2003, and used a sample of 16,643.

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