Soweto survey reveals SA's Aids challenge

By Peter Apps

South Africa may have the world's largest number of HIV infections, but more than one in seven township dwellers say they rarely or never use a condom when having sex.

Although unprotected sex is the main transmission route for HIV, over a quarter of men and a 10th of women in Johannesburg's Soweto admit to having multiple partners concurrently, according to a survey by the non-governmental Population Council published on Thursday.

The report highlighted the challenges facing South Africa's attempts to change behaviour to fight the virus and the Aids epidemic it has caused.

About five million of 45 million population are estimated to be infected. Activists say up to 900 die of Aids each day.

Fourteen percent of men and 18 percent of women said they rarely or never used condoms, even with non-regular partners.

Aids sufferers are widely stigmatised, but the fight against the pandemic is not helped by the fact that, according to the report, "men who are infected... attract a kind of respect because they did it straight (used no condoms)".

In an attempt to make condoms more acceptable, campaigners are trying to promote their use in long-term relationships.

But even here, they face a struggle, as many see condom use as an admission or accusation of infidelity.

"Many men thought women who carry condoms are easy," the report said. A fifth of women and a quarter of men said they would be outraged if a partner asked them to use a condom.

Nevertheless, overall condom use among the more than 2 500 people surveyed was higher than expected. Forty percent of men and 30 percent of women reported consistent condom use with regular partners.

"There is evidence things are changing in the younger generation," said Jane Chege, who presented the research at a conference in Johannesburg. "But we have many problems."

Although Soweto's men admitted to more sexual partners than women, only a quarter said they had gone for an HIV test, compared to half of the women.

Violence is also a major problem in relationships

A third of men admitted hitting their partner - higher than the proportion of women who admitted being hit - while seven percent of men and six percent of women said a man had the right to hit his wife if she refused sex.

"It shows we live in a very violent society," said Chege, blaming part of the impact on the legacy of white minority rule, as well as widespread unemployment.

"In many cases of domestic violence, we find the men are unemployed and the women have work. The men feel marginalised and angry."

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