Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi has appealed to parents to allow the department into schools to raise awareness about HIV infections before the war against the pandemic is lost.
Motsoaledi’s plea came after the release of results of the 5th HIV Prevalence, Incidence, Behaviour and Communication for 2017 - it showed an increase of new infections in youths aged 15 to 24.
The results were revealed at the Department of Health’s offices in Pretoria by the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) and Motsoaledi yesterday.
The survey, conducted across all nine provinces, showed new infections had declined to an estimated 231100 - a 44% decrease since the last survey in 2012.
While overall new infections declined significantly in 2017, about 7.9million South Africans were still living with HIV.
Researchers found women aged 15 to 24 still presented higher rates of HIV prevalence than men - at a rate of three times than their male counterparts, with a third of young women having multiple sexual relationships with older men.
Females overall showed the biggest decline in HIV prevalence, but it still remained higher than that of males. HIV among adults up to 49 years in age stood at 20.6%, females at 26.3% and males at 14.8%.
Professor Khangelani Zuma, a researcher from the HSRC, said the marked differences were more pronounced among young adults aged 20 to 24, with women once again higher than men.
Prevalence of the virus has peaked at age 35 to 39 years for females and 45 to 49 years for males.
In terms of risk behaviours, consistent condom use was low, with children participating in sexual activities before the age of 15, especially boys. The Western Cape, Eastern Cape, Mpumalanga, Free State and KwaZulu-Natal showed increases, stakeholders said.
But the biggest concern for now was new infections in young people.
Motsoaledi said some of the hard work put into raising awareness and curbing the pandemic since 2012 was paying off to some degree.
Motsoaledi said his department attempted - in vain - to launch the schools’ programme in 2013 to tackle five key areas, dealing with eyesight testing, immunisation, and alcohol, drugs and smoking at schools. Programmes dealing with reproductive health and HIV education, testing and counselling at schools were rejected by parents, school governing bodies and teacher unions before the launch.
“They all refused, saying they did not want us to confuse their children.
“There was also negativity from the media, stating that we wanted eight-year-olds to have condoms.”
Motsoaledi said hopefully, with the results showing the impact of what doing nothing had done, parents would finally approve of the department going into schools, failing which the “war on HIV” would amount to nothing.
He said he wanted to probe the issue of young women having more sexual partners because he suspected they needed more partners to keep up with the lifestyle offered by “evil men” or “blessers”.