About 10% of Young South Africans HIV-Positive, Survey Says
About 10% of 15- to 25-year-old South Africans are HIV-positive, according to a survey that University of Witwatersrand Reproductive Health Research Unit researchers say is the largest representative poll of young people in the country, South Africa's Star reports (Ndaki, Star, 4/7). Researchers administered HIV tests and conducted in-person interviews for a nationally representative sample of 11,904 15- to 24-year-olds, including questions on sexual behavior, contraceptive use, sexual violence, perceived risk of HIV and awareness of the national youth education program loveLife. Among all of the young people interviewed, 94% said there are ways to avoid HIV; 77% cited condoms and 41% cited abstinence as a means of preventing HIV infection. Of the 67% of young people who reported being sexually active, 52% reported using a condom during their last sexual encounter. In addition, about 33% of respondents who had engaged in sexual intercourse in the past year reported always using a condom; however, 67% said they did not use condoms consistently, according to the report ("HIV and Sexual Behavior Among Young South Africans: A National Survey of 15-24 Year Olds" text, 4/6). Although 52% of the people surveyed reported using a condom the last time they had sex, consistent condom use is "still too low to have an impact on the epidemic," loveLife CEO Dr. David Harrison said (Ndaki, Health-e News/Star, 4/7). The researchers also found that young women are "bearing the brunt" of the AIDS epidemic, as the survey found that 77% of the HIV-positive youth are women, AFP/Sunday Times reports (AFP/Sunday Times, 4/7). In addition, nearly one in four women ages 20 to 24 are HIV-positive, compared with one in 14 men of the same age (Study text, 4/6).
The survey was commissioned by loveLife, South Africa's national HIV prevention program for youth (Survey text, 4/6). LoveLife combines a sustained, high-intensity, multimedia education and awareness campaign with countrywide efforts to establish adolescent-friendly services in government clinics and a national network of community level outreach and support for youth. LoveLife is organized under the auspices of a national advisory board of leading South Africans and is implemented through a consortium of South African public health organizations in partnership with the South African government and a countrywide coalition of more than 100 locally based youth-serving organizations. LoveLife receives support from the Kaiser Family Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Nelson Mandela Foundation, Anglo American, the South African government and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 10/8/03). About 85% of the young people surveyed reported having seen or heard of loveLife, including 75% of youth living in rural areas and 93% of youth living in urban areas. In addition, 65% of respondents reported awareness of at least four loveLife programs or products, and 34% had participated in one (Survey text, 4/6).
The results of the survey are in line with other estimates and support earlier suggestions that the number of new HIV cases is "leveling off," Helen Rees, lead author of the study, said, according to Reuters. However, it would be "naive" to think that the apparent stabilization in new HIV cases "is any cause for celebration," Rees said, adding, "The rate of infection among South African youth, particularly young girls, is among the highest in the world, and there are persistent behavioral trends, such as multiple sex partners, that exacerbate the problem" (Quinn, Reuters, 4/7). Harrison said that "young people [in South Africa are] immersed in a society that has little tolerance for women's sexual rights and [will] not change their behavior while these prevailing norms are still endorsed by older people," Health-e News/Star reports. Audrey Pettifor, a study author and program director of adolescent health at RHRU, said that changing young people's behaviour is "not quick and not a magic bullet." She urged HIV/AIDS prevention campaigns to address gender imbalances and factors influencing poverty and try to make youth aware that they are affected by the epidemic, according to Health-e News/Star (Health-e News/Star, 4/7).
The complete survey is available online.
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