Fighting the HIV Stigma in South Africa

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colour-condomsA 2014 survey by South Africa’s Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) revealed a decrease in condom use in South Africa from the previous surveys in 2012 and 2008. South Africa has the largest HIV-positive population in the worldan estimated 6.4 million, which account for 270,000 HIV-related deaths. The rate of new infections has increased in tandem with the decreasing condom use.

HIV sufferers are subject to a great deal of stigma and hardship after their infection, and ineffective counselling can make accepting the HIV positive status extremely difficult. Poverty and a lack of accessible treatment options only contribute to the epidemic.

Following the survey, Minister of Health Aaron Motsoaledi discussed the need to make condoms appealing again. He stated that condoms and safer sex no longer seemed exciting, especially in the 15-24 age group, who described condoms as “unsexy” and “uncool”.

University and colleges will now provide students with accessible and free condoms that are different from the standard ones available. Flavoured and coloured condoms will be distributed with the intent of innovating the ways that sexual health is viewed. The goal is to combat “condom fatigue” and make them exciting to help reestablish their use in the 15-24 age group. This is the most at-risk age group, especially for women. Three young women for every one man are infected in this demographic.

Dr Aaron Motsoaledi

Dr Aaron Motsoaledi

Despite the risks, condoms and sexual health have become less appealing. The amount of HIV sufferers has increased since the previous survey in 2012. Risky sexual behaviours of the 15-24 age group explains part, but the increased life span of those living with HIV is also a factor.

The Antiretroviral Treatment (ART) program has drastically increased the life expectancy of HIV sufferers. Patients can now receive treatment at state funded facilities, while the previous government refused state funding for HIV treatment. South Africa has the largest program for HIV treatment in the world, and patients can receive treatment at their local clinics. The country invests more than 1 billion dollars annually in their treatment programs for HIV and AIDS.

Motsoaledi believes that the fear of HIV has decreased, despite the increasing rate of infection. Of those surveyed, most said they were not at risk of infection. However, as the survey by HSRC revealed, approximately 10% of those who completed the survey were HIV positive.

With these new initiatives, the way that young men and women are educated about condoms and sexual health is changing.

 

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Heather Barnes

Heather Barnes

Heather holds an honours B.A. from Wilfrid Laurier University in History and is pursuing a career in law.

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