South Africa has seen the first-ever signs of a drop in new HIV infections, said a report released Wednesday in the country with the world's second-heaviest AIDS burden.
Preliminary reports from a 2006 ante-natal survey showed HIV prevalence among pregnant women had dropped to 29.1 percent from 30.2 percent the previous year, Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang told journalists in Pretoria.
"The report indicates that this decline is mainly amongst people under the age of 20 years, followed by those between 20 and 24."
The survey was carried out among pregnant women attending state clinics and hospitals, and its findings are used as an indication of the national HIV prevalence rate.
"The decline in the under 20s, from 15.9 percent in 2005 to 13.7 percent in 2006, in particular, suggests a possible reduction in new infections in the population," the minister said.
The report said HIV rates have been stable for several years, adding: "This is the first evidence of a decline in the South African epidemic".
South Africa recently launched an AIDS plan with the aim of reducing by 50 percent the rate of new infections by 2011, focusing on the youth among whom most new infections occur.
The country has the world's second heaviest caseload of HIV/AIDS, behind India, with about 5.5 million in a population of 48 million infected, as well as one of the world's highest rates of teenage pregnancy.