Research Reveals Alarming Levels of Ignorance About HIV Risk in South Africa
December 2, 2005
According to a recent survey of South African households commissioned by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, many people in the world's most HIV-infected country suffer a false sense of security about their risk of acquiring the virus.
The survey, which also conducted HIV tests on respondents, found that HIV prevalence among South Africans ages 15-49 was 16.2 percent, just slightly higher than the 15.6 reported in 2002. However, increasing mortality rates influenced the figures, and the rate of new infections remained high, researchers from the country's Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) cautioned.
According to HSRC, an alarming 66 percent of respondents did not consider themselves at risk of infection, including over of half of those who tested HIV-positive. "That means we have more than 2 million people walking the streets of South Africa who are HIV-positive and think they probably are not," said lead researcher and HSRC head Olive Shisana.
HIV risk to women is higher than to men, said HSRC researchers, with women ages 15-24 up to four times more likely to be infected than their male counterparts. And while HIV mostly strikes those in their reproductive prime, men and women over 50 are not immune, said the survey.
For the first time, new CDC-developed tests permitted the identification of recent infections, and researchers found the results disconcerting: a total of 181 samples, 2.7 percent, were infected with HIV less than 180 days before testing. This included 11 children ages 2-14, representing a "way too high" incidence of 0.9 percent, said Shisana.
In a bit of good news, survey respondents expressed positive attitudes toward people with HIV/AIDS in a country where stigma remains strong. At least 90 percent said they would be willing to care for an infected relative, and almost 80 percent said infected children should not be separated from their peers.
11.30.2005; Alexandra Zavis
This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.