HIV Prevalence Among South African Health Workers ‘Very High,’ Study Says
The HIV prevalence among South African health care workers is "very high," and the government should launch an antiretroviral drug treatment program targeting the population, according to a study published in the October issue of the South African Medical Journal, the SAPA/Mail & Guardian reports (SAPA/Mail & Guardian, 10/12). Dr. Olive Shisana of the Human Science Research Council of South Africa and colleagues analyzed data obtained from 595 professional and nonprofessional health care workers in four South African provinces who work at 222 public and private health facilities. Based on the responses, the researchers found that approximately 15.7% of public and private health care workers in the four provinces were HIV-positive in 2002. HIV prevalence was "much higher" -- 20% among workers ages 18 to 35 years old, according to the study. HIV prevalence was 20.3% among nonprofessional staff and 13.7% among professional health care workers, according to the study (Shisana et al., SAMJ, October 2004). Although black health care workers had a higher HIV prevalence than other groups, the researchers warned that sample sizes among other racial groups were "too small to yield meaningful results," according to the SAPA/Mail & Guardian. Although education levels were not significantly related to prevalence rates, the study found that unmarried workers were more likely to be HIV-positive than married workers. In addition, HIV-positive workers were twice as likely as HIV-negative workers to be infected with other diseases, such as tuberculosis, according to the study. The researchers also found that health workers faced a "high" risk of contracting HIV from their patients, but HIV-positive workers were "less likely" to transmit the virus to their patients, the SAPA/Mail & Guardian reports.
Because health care workers are a vital component of HIV/AIDS treatment programs, the South African government needs to develop a comprehensive plan to expand the health care sector, including the provision of antiretroviral drugs to health care workers, according to the study, the SAPA/Mail & Guardian reports. "Given the high prevalence of HIV in the younger population of health workers, it is critical to increase the numbers of nurses to be trained, particularly if one considers that from 1997 to 2001 the country experienced a 6.86% decline in the number of nurses registering with the South African Nursing Council, the researchers said. Moreover, the high HIV prevalence among health workers has "serious implications" for the country's health care infrastructure because increased absenteeism among HIV-positive workers could lead to HIV-negative workers becoming "overloaded with work" and experiencing "lower morale and burnout," the SAPA/Mail & Guardian reports. Therefore, the Department of Health also should train additional nurses and conduct investigations into the factors that cause nurses to leave the field or emigrate to other countries, the researchers concluded (SAPA/Mail & Guardian, 10/12).