There were 2 900 new infections in the sector in 2015, the year of the study by the Human Sciences Research Council, which equated to the eight new HIV infections every day, said the lead investigator, Professor Khangelani Zuma.
“They are the scariest figures and this should not be happening, because educators are supposed to be more knowledgeable and you would expect them to know about HIV prevention,” he said ahead of the release of the survey findings, at the South African Aids Conference at the Durban ICC.
The research, commissioned by the Department of Basic Education, is the second that has been carried out to investigate the HIV-related profile of teachers and school leadership, and the number of people living with HIV turned out to be higher than at the time of the first survey in 2004.
“The overall HIV prevalence among educators was 15.3%, translating to about 58000 educators living with HIV in 2015. This was higher than in the 2004 survey (which was 12.7%),” the study said.
This increase was partly due to the fact that people were now on antiretroviral treatments and therefore living longer, “which was a good thing”, Zuma said.
However, people were still getting infected. Among the estimated 58000 teachers living with HIV, 55.7% were taking antiretroviral drugs.
The national average HIV incidence rate in 2015 was 0.84% (which translated to the 2900 new infections) and both KwaZulu-Natal (2.05%) and the Eastern Cape (1.23%) had rates higher than the average.
The survey was conducted in 1380 primary, secondary, combined and intermediate schools, and 21500 teachers were interviewed.
The HIV prevalence was significantly higher among women teachers, compared to their male counterparts (16.4% compared to 12.7%) with the prevalence peak being in the 34-44 year age group, compared to the 25-34 year age group in the 2004 survey.
Overall, the higher HIV prevalence was found among teachers who were Africans, with low education levels, with low disposable income, who were single or widowed and teaching in informal areas.
Most teachers reported having one sexual partner in the previous 12 months and 10.1% said that they had two or more partners. More male teachers said they had two or more partners than the women teachers.
“Although HIV prevalence was high among African educators, only 17.8% perceived themselves to be ‘definitely at risk of HIV infection’,” the survey found. And 6.3% of these teachers proved to be HIV positive, although they were unaware of it.
Among those who predicted they would not get infected, 26.7% were HIV-positive, but were unaware of it.
The researchers point out that the provision of good quality education in public schools was intrinsically linked to the health, well-being and productivity of teachers.
As well as their personal health issues – HIV infection and TB – other factors also influenced the health and well-being of teachers at schools.
These included work dissatisfaction, work overload as a result of having to teach big classes and extra responsibilities, which they had to take on when other teachers were absent. Also cited was exposure to violence.
When comparing their training to what they were teaching, the majority of teachers teaching maths, life orientation and social sciences were not trained for those subjects, researchers found.
They recommended that HIV-prevention interventions should be tailored to address teachers at higher risk of acquiring HIV – younger teachers, especially women, those living in rural areas, high-risk alcohol drinkers and those in the high HIV burden provinces of KZN and the Eastern Cape.
Pre-exposure prophylaxis should also be offered to young female teachers at high risk, researchers recommended.
“The department should also encourage teachers to get tested, especially those not on medical aid,” Zuma said.