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The spread of the enemies of HIV – testing, condom use and male medical circumcision – are all increasing among South Africans.
The 2012 National HIV Communication Survey results released yesterday at the International Aids Conference in Washington show that the percentage of people who have been tested at least once in their lives has increased to 64 percent, for a total of 17.4 million people tested.
“We noticed a few new things; condom use at first sex is now a norm in SA… Why this is important is because we have found that people who use condoms at first sex are more likely to use them throughout their lives… We must encourage young people to use condoms from the very first time they have sex,” said Bronwyn Pearce, deputy director of the John Hopkins Health and Education in SA, which was involved in the survey.
The survey found that less than 10 percent of respondents who first had sex 40 years ago said they used a condom, but this figure currently sits at 66 percent.
The survey attributed this to communication programmes and the distribution of 450 million condoms through the public health system.
Pearce said medical circumcision was another government campaign success, with 350 000 men being circumcised last year, of which 64 percent were medical circumcisions.
The call by Zulu king Goodwill Zwelithini for men to be circumcised resulted in circumcisions in KwaZulu-Natal more than tripling over two years, from about 26 000 men in 2009 to more than 83 000 by 2011.
The king’s call, with the government’s circumcision campaign, has seen the percentage of men who have been medically circumcised nationally increasing from 33 percent in 2009 to 48 percent in 2012.
The survey found there was little evidence of behavioural disinhibition as 85 percent of both men and women know that a man who is circumcised still needs to use a condom, and there is no significant difference in condom use at last sex between circumcised and uncircumcised men.
A decrease in stigma was another important factor.
“More and more people are starting to talk about Aids more openly, as opposed to it being so stigmatised you can’t talk about it,” said Pearce.
Among survey respondents who knew that President Jacob Zuma had tested for HIV, 52 percent were more likely to discuss testing with their sex partners, compared to 39 percent who did not know. People who talked about testing with their sex partner, in turn, were more likely to test for HIV than those who did not talk about testing with their partners.
The study found that 83 percent of the population were exposed to at least one of the communication interventions, which were an important factor in increasing positive behaviours such as testing, condom use and circumcision.
These communication programmes also benefited from the involvement of leaders who promoted campaign messages.
The survey observed that when leaders speak, the media report on what they say and do, and people talk about what leaders think and say, and emulate their example. – Additional reporting by Health-e News –Service