HIV red alert as pregnant women abandon condom use
Almost two-thirds of the people questioned did not know their partner’s HIV status.
Hardly any pregnant women are having safe sex, leaving them at high risk of HIV infection, say University of Pretoria academics.
A team led by Simnikiwe Mayaphi, a medical virologist at the University of Pretoria, questioned 7,886 pregnant HIV-negative women and found that 99.5% had had recent unprotected sex.
The results in the non-pregnant population were little better: of 1,661 HIV-negative men and women recruited at counselling and testing clinics, 88.5% admitted having unprotected sex in the last three months.
Writing in the journal PLOS ONE, Mayaphi said almost two-thirds of the people questioned did not know their partner’s HIV status.
“These data show that a large segment of sexually active people in the Tshwane district have high risk exposure to HIV,” he said.The findings supported studies elsewhere in the world which concluded that it was difficult to sustain behavioural changes in support of HIV prevention.
With 6.2 million HIV-positive people, South Africa is responsible for 20% of the infection’s global burden, and Mayaphi said: “The world continues to see a high rate of new HIV infections despite the availability of prevention measures.
“Of all [these], behavioural measures are the most affordable and the easier to implement even in low-resource settings.
“Therefore, it is important to continually make efforts to understand and improve behavioural prevention measures against HIV.”Mayaphi said proper and consistent use of condoms was the biggest single change people could make to safeguard their health; they were up to 95% reliable in preventing acquisition of HIV.
He suggested the introduction of a questionnaire, similar to the five-minute survey he used in the study, to capture data on HIV risk when people attended counselling and testing clinics.
“This could ensure that there is a systematic way of identifying HIV risk factors [so that] counselling is optimised ... for each individual,” he said.
“These data could also be used to inform relevant HIV prevention interventions that could be implemented at a community or population level. For instance, home-based HIV testing could be promoted in areas where most people are unaware of their partners’ HIV status.”