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S.African Co. Offers AIDS Insurance

October 11, 1999

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (AP) _ AIDS and rape are so common in South Africa that an insurance company is offering a policy to try to protect rape victims from contracting the disease.

The policy, to be introduced Tuesday by the CGU Insurance Ltd, provides a one-month course of anti-retroviral drugs to prevent infection, a year’s worth of AIDS tests and counseling.

The new policy arrives as South Africa’s two ugliest social problems are dominating the attention of the media and public officials.

The government marked the first year of its anti-AIDS campaign last Friday, as a series of high-profile rapes touched off a wave of protest from women’s groups and anti-rape activists. A government commission is studying a comprehensive overhaul of sexual violence laws.

Some 3.6 million South Africans are infected with AIDS, roughly one in eight adults, and the government says 1,500 new infections occur every day.

The predominance of the virus makes rape an increasingly lethal act for the 64,000 women and girls who are raped each year in South Africa, where a woman is three times as likely to be raped as an American woman.

Both the disease and the crime are believed to be considerably underreported given the taboos about both subjects.

``Talking to the women I know, they say, `Oh yuck.′ They don’t want to know about it, or talk about it,″ CGU’s chief executive, Roger Wanless, said of the risks posed by rape and AIDS.

The insurance policy has drawn a complex response from anti-rape activists and physicians, and even at CGU itself.

``It’s playing on the very real fears of women that they might be raped and might get HIV,″ said Carol Bouwer, head of Rape Crisis Cape Town.

``Nevertheless, I have medical and life insurance. So why would I not also insure myself against rape? ... Maybe this is how free enterprise works. If it does mean a woman is raped and couldn’t afford anti-retroviral therapy and counseling, and this makes a positive difference in her life, well then, jolly good.″

The government has declined to provide the drugs free to rape victims, saying there is not enough evidence they are effective and that they are too expensive. Preventive treatment ranges from $585 to $835, and few private health insurers cover the costs, doctors say.

CGU’s rape insurance premiums start at $4 a month, expensive for many of the most vulnerable women, who often live in poverty far from the medical care needed to supervise the drug course. The policy requires no police report and a portion of the proceeds are donated to an anti-rape trust fund.

Wanless said profits from the policy will be ``minuscule″ for the company, a subsidiary of UK giant CGU group. The South African unit had net profits of $14 million on gross premiums of $376 million last year.

But Wanless rejected suggestions the company was capitalizing on fears of rape and HIV.

``To the extent that we get favorable comment and publicity, that is fine,″ he said. ``What we are doing is providing a response to a general and reasonable need.″

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