Nearly 7% of Young South African Children HIV-Positive, Study Says
Almost 7% of South African children ages two to nine are HIV-positive, according to a study released on Wednesday by the South African Human Sciences Research Council, Reuters reports (Bell, Reuters, 5/12). HSRC Executive Director Olive Shisana presented the National Household HIV Prevalence and Risk Study of South African Children -- the first national HIV prevalence study among children in South Africa -- at the Second African Conference on Social Aspects of HIV and AIDS Research in Cape Town, South Africa (Matomela, BuaNews, 5/12). The study, which was funded by the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund and the Nelson Mandela Foundation, is a further analysis of data collected for the 2002 Nelson Mandela/HSRC Study of HIV/AIDS. The study included 3,988 children and teenagers between the ages of two and 18. More than 82% of participants provided an oral fluid sample for HIV testing. Caregivers answered questionnaires for the 2,138 children between the ages of two and 11; 740 participants between the ages of 12 and 14 completed a separate children's questionnaire; and 1,110 participants between the ages of 15 and 18 completed a youth questionnaire (HSRC release, 5/12). Researchers conducted the study to determine HIV prevalence among children, determine young people's knowledge of HIV/AIDS and the methods of prevention and identify social and community risk factors that "predispose" children to HIV infection, BuaNews reports (BuaNews, 5/12).
Researchers found that about 5.4% of participants between the ages of two and 18 tested positive for HIV, with 6.7% of children ages two to nine testing HIV-positive and 4.7% of participants between the ages of 10 and 14 living with HIV. The study shows that orphans face the highest risk of HIV infection, with about 12.7% of orphans between the ages of two and 18 testing HIV-positive (Reuters, 5/12). Researchers found that 10% of the youth had lost a parent by age nine, 5% had lost a parent by age 14 and 25% of participants between the ages of 15 and 18 had lost at least one parent (HSRC release, 5/12). The study also found that only 10% of the caregivers for participants between the ages of two and 11 had discussed sex and HIV/AIDS with the children. Shisana said, "Caregivers are significantly more likely to discuss these topics with girls than boys in their care. Just over 40% of children of 12 to 14 years reported that their parents have spoken to them about sex and HIV and AIDS." Shisana said that schools and educators are the "most important source" of information about HIV/AIDS for children, and family members -- particularly mothers -- serve as secondary sources of information, according to BuaNews (BuaNews, 5/12). Shisana said, "The risk of HIV/AIDS among children has received little attention in South Africa. ... [I]t appears that children run a much greater risk of contracting the disease than previously thought" (Reuters, 5/12). She added that more "support and intervention to improve knowledge and communication [about HIV/AIDS is] needed" (BuaNews, 5/12). HSRC plans to further investigate the findings in a follow-up study later this year, according to a release (HSRC release, 5/12).