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South Africa, Activists Launch New AIDS Plan

The government of South Africa has announced an ambitious plan to fight the AIDS virus. The new plan was drafted for the first time with AIDS activists who had been highly critical of the government's previous AIDS programs. VOA's Scott Bobb reports from Johannesburg.

The announcement of the new five-year plan to fight HIV/AIDS formalized a new era of cooperation between the South African government and AIDS activists after years of sometimes bitter disputes.

Acting Health Minister Jeff Radebe said the plan aims to reduce new infections of HIV by 50 percent in the next five years and raise the number of people receiving treatment from 250,000 to one million.

"We intend to provide an appropriate package of treatment, care and support services to at least 80 percent of our people living with HIV and their families by [the year] 2011," he said.

The plan also seeks to reduce mother-to-child transmission of AIDS, boost AIDS prevention campaigns, and strengthen programs to fight diseases associated with AIDS like tuberculosis.

An alliance of care-givers, researchers, civic groups and other activists had long criticized the government for downplaying the AIDS epidemic.

They have welcomed the new partnership with the government under the expanded South African National AIDS Council, which is to oversee the program in an advisory role.

They also praised the new plan, but warned implementation would be difficult.

South Africa's Deputy-President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, who presided over the program launch, acknowledged there would be many obstacles.

"The challenge is big, I know, and I have seen all of you in your different provinces that you are up to the task," she said. "I know about your commitment and with all of this partnership mobilization that we have I am sure we are going to be unstoppable."

More than five million South Africans are estimated to suffer from HIV, the second highest number in the world. The pandemic has reduced the average life expectancy to 40 years, hurt economic production and orphaned more than one million children.