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By Jillian Green and Jeremy Gordin
The National Aids Helpline is being inundated with calls about whether taking a shower after unprotected sex can minimise the risk of contracting HIV.
This is as a direct result of the "misleading" statements relating to HIV prevention made by Jacob Zuma during his rape trial last week.
The former deputy president told the Johannesburg High Court that he took a shower - after having sex with the HIV-positive complainant without a condom - as he believed this minimised his risk of contracting the disease.
Speaking to The Star on Sunday, Hope Mhlongo, the counselling manager of the National Aids Helpline, said that since Zuma's statement, the number of callers querying the validity of taking a shower to prevent HIV infection has increased.
"It has caused a huge problem. People seem to be very confused now," she said, adding that while they had not seen the number of actual callers increase, the variety of questions relating to prevention had increased.
"Women have also been calling to find out whether they should take a shower after being raped to reduce their risk of HIV infection. We have to explain to them that this not only does nothing to reduce their risk but instead gets rid of vital evidence that they would need when they laid a rape charge," she said.
In a bid to minimise the effects of Zuma's statements, Aids activists and scientists are embarking on damage control. The South African HIV Clinicians Society hopes to reduce the damage by reiterating that:
"Our perception is that there has been significant confusion sown in the minds of the public. We call on public figures to show responsibility when making statements on HIV prevention, especially when these are in conflict with current scientific and government messages," the president of the clinicians' society, Dr Francois Venter, said.
He added that the "dreadful" consequence of Zuma's statements was that more people would be rationalising their risky behaviour by saying they would "have a shower after sex if they didn't have condom".
The CEO of loveLife, David Harrison, said: "The Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa has shown that knowledge of HIV prevention in people over the age 50 is the poorest. This is an opportunity for the leaders in this country to stand up and unequivocally say that condom use is the only way to prevent HIV infection."
Jenny Marcus, the founder of Community Aids Response, said South Africa was still suffering from the effects of some leaders' denial around HIV, and to have Zuma make such statements was "horrendous".
Meanwhile, the rape trial resumes on Monday with Zuma's lawyer, Michael Hulley, taking the witness stand. He will be questioned and cross-examined on at least three issues:
Hulley will be followed by some of the men alleged to have raped or to have tried to rape the 31-year-old complainant when she was a minor and as an adult.