Cape Town - Women - particularly black women - remain the most at risk when it comes to being infected with HIV, with one in four living with the virus.
The latest SA National HIV Prevalence, Incidence and Behaviour Survey shows that while the 6.4 million HIV-positive South Africans are living longer due to the massive rollout of antiretroviral drugs, certain groups including disabled people, blacks and those who live with their partners, remain the worst affected by HIV.
The survey, which provides an important gauge of HIV infection, was the fourth such study to be carried out by the Human Sciences Research Council since 2002.
Not only did it obtain national data for the whole population - based on a sample of 40 000 people - it also compared the behaviour of different groups.
Presenting the results of the survey, Professor Olive Shisana of the HSRC said the number of people with HIV had increased from 10.6 percent of the population in 2008 to 12.2 percent in 2012.
More than 469 000 new cases were measured in 2012, an increase of just more than 1 percent of the population. This figure was the highest in the world.
Almost one in four women aged 15 to 49 (a total of 23.2 percent) was infected, while one in seven men was infected.
The figures were worse for older women: 36 percent of women aged 30 to 34 were infected. The figure stood at 28 percent for women 25 to 29 years and 40 to 44 years.
Most worrying was the number of new infections of girls aged 15 to 24, who had infection rates four times higher than boys of the same age. Researchers attributed this to the “sugar daddy syndrome”.
Young boys who had sex before the age of 15 increased from 11 percent in 2008 to about 17 percent, while girls who had sex before age 15 dropped from 6 percent to 5 percent.
KwaZulu-Natal had the highest prevalence of HIV at 28 percent - possible due to low circumcision rates - while the Western Cape had the lowest at about 8 percent.
Single women were four times more likely to be infected than married women.
The study also showed that condom use had dropped. About 85 percent of men aged 15 to 24 used condoms in 2008, but this figure had dropped to 67.5 percent in 2012. Condom use by males aged 25 to 49 dropped from 44 percent in 2008 to 36 percent in 2012, and by females from 41 percent to about 33 percent.
Shisana said while more people were infected, this indicated that HIV-positive people were living longer. She attributed this to the rollout of ARVs.
The perception of HIV by South Africans was worrying. About 76.5 percent of those interviewed believed that they were at low risk of acquiring HIV when in fact one in 10 of those with that belief were already infected but unaware.
Knowledge about how the disease was transmitted and prevented appeared to have dropped since 2008, but attitudes towards HIV-positive people had improved considerably.
Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi described the report as “an important tool in informing government programmes and in understanding the gaps” in policy.
Some of the problems raised in the report, such as decrease in condom use, had been expected by the government as people seemed to believe that the “worst of times” was over following the ARV rollout.
Condom “fatigue” had been expected as they were no longer seen as “cool”. This attitude would be countered by the distribution of flavoured and coloured condoms at higher education institutions.
The first batch of the new condoms will be distributed in four weeks.