Former President Nelson Mandela on Monday urged people to fight AIDS by using condoms and waiting until they are in their late teens to have sex.
"AIDS has spread because people have so many partners," Mandela was quoted as saying by the South African Press Association. "People should use condoms and try to resist being with a partner until about 18 or 19 years old."
More than 6.5 million of South Africa's 47 million people could be infected with HIV, according to a government report released Monday, a sharp increase from previous estimates.
A 2004 Health Department survey of more than 16,000 pregnant women attending antenatal clinics indicated between 6.29 million and 6.57 million South Africans were infected with the virus that causes AIDS, compared to 5.6 million in 2003.
The state statistical service, Statistics SA, put the figure this year at 4.5 million.
Officials quoted by the South African Broadcasting Corp. blamed differences in methodology for the discrepancy.
President Thabo Mbeki's government has been criticized for its sluggish response to HIV/AIDS, with activists accusing it of seeking to play down the crisis. Until last year, the government refused to provide life-prolonging anti-retroviral drugs through the public health system, citing cost and safety concerns.
The annual National HIV and Siphilis Antenatal Sero-Prevalence Survey found 29.5 percent of pregnant women tested positive for HIV in 2004, compared to 27.9 percent in 2003.
Prevalence increased among all age groups between the two years, but was highest in women aged between 25 and 29 — nearly 40 percent of whom tested HIV-positive.
Mandela was speaking at his Johannesburg foundation, where he introduced four new ambassadors for his 46664 HIV/AIDS awareness campaign. They are local musicians Vusi Mahlasela and Dozi, actress Kim Engelbrecht and radio presenter Leanne Manas.
The campaign is named after Mandela's prison number under apartheid because he believes the pandemic is also reducing people to statistics.
Sub-Saharan Africa is home to some 25 million of the world's 40 million HIV-infected people. Mandela's eldest son died of the disease.
The 46664 campaign's international ambassadors include actors Will Smith and Brad Pitt and singers Beyonce and Annie Lennox.