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Apartheid blamed for Aids

AIDS is spreading at an explosive rate among blacks in South Africa - and apartheid is blamed. WorldAids, a bi- monthly magazine published by the Panos Institute in London, says that apartheid created conditions ripe for the spread of Aids.

The first Aids cases were diagnosed among white homosexual men in 1982, and only later emerged among blacks. At first, screening by blood transfusion services found that about one in every 4,200 black people was HIV-positive. Today the figure is one in 79 black men and one in 60 black women. This compares with one in 2,000 white men and one in 45,000 white women.

'Family and community life were systematically destroyed by massive removals, and by the migrant labour system which denied black workers recruited by the mines and industries the right to bring their spouses and children to live with them in the cities,' says the magazine. In rural Zululand, migrant workers are more than twice as likely to be infected as those who stay at home.

'Poverty and violence, both encouraged by South Africa's racial politics, also play a part.' With black unemployment at more than 70 per cent in some areas, prostitution or sex in exchange for material support is the key to survival for many women and children.

And where violent death is common - as it is today in KwaZulu/Natal and in townships around Johannesburg - people tend to be fatalistic and unprepared to take precautions against Aids, says an expert.

Aids reached South Africa about five years later than neighbouring countries such as Zimbabwe and Malawi, the magazine notes, and there was a chance of preventing the devastating effects now being experienced. But the white-run government did too little, especially with regard to blacks. Far less money was spent on black hospital patients, and there was racism and arrogance in its approach - for example, in appointing an advisory body consisting only of white medical men.

There is hope, says another expert, that a plan to fight Aids will emerge and be presented to the democratic government after next month's elections. 'But whether the new government says, 'OK, we're going to make Aids a serious priority' - of that I'm less hopeful, given all the pressing problems they'll face.'