Almost 30% of adolescents in Soweto, Johannesburg, believe the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a conspiracy. More than half were unsure of the virus’s origins.
This is according to the results of a health study aimed at investigating the socio-economic conditions of youth living in the area against the backdrop of high HIV/Aids infections in the country.
The study, The Botsha Bophelo Adolescent Health Study: A profile for adolescents in Soweto (BBAHS), undertaken by researchers at the faculty of health sciences, Simon Fraser University, Canada; Perinatal HIV Research Unit, Soweto, South Africa; faculty of health sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa; The British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, Vancouver, Canada; and the South African Medical Research Council, Cape Town, South Africa, found that 29% of the youths interviewed think HIV is a conspiracy, while 51% are unsure of the virus’s origins. More than 800 youths, aged 16, 17 and 18, were interviewed during the research process over a period of two years.
“While BBAHS does not claim to be representative of all the adolescents living in Soweto, these data underscore the fact that adolescents coming of age in this community face many socio-economic challenges that are occurring alongside the endemic levels of HIV,” the report says the study found.
South Africa has one of the highest rates of HIV in the world, with more than 6m people infected, including 2m youths.
The study looks at various socio-structural factors which might influence HIV infection risk, such as poverty, food security, housing conditions and violence. It also reveals that participants had a moderate understanding of the disease, with females scoring 78% and males 72% on a questionnaire.
Almost half of the youths interviewed said they had never tested, while 3% reported being HIV positive.
The study shows that 52% of youths reported a high level of food insecurity. A high number of the youths had been exposed to traumatic events and physical violence. More males reported being sexually active as compared with females, while a small percentage said they had more than one partner within the past six months.
“I think the information (on HIV prevention) hasn’t been revised to be suitable for this generation,” said Aids activist Criselda Dudumashe. “With teenage pregnancies on the rise, it shows that young people are having sex without a condom.”
Background: Youth between the ages of 15 years to 24 years account for almost half of new HIV infections in South Africa.
Objectives: To describe the study details of the Botsha Bophelo Adolescent Health Study (BBAHS) which was an investigation of HIV risk among adolescents living in Soweto, South Africa.
Methods: Eligibility criteria for the BBAHS included being 14 years – 19 years old and living in one of the 41 identified formal and informal areas in the township of Soweto. A cross-sectional survey was developed between investigators and an adolescent community advisory board consisting of previously validated scales and original questions including demographics, sexual and reproductive health, health service utilisation and psychosocial behaviours.
Results: Between 2010 and 2012, interviewers administered surveys among 830 adolescents (57% females), whose median age was 17 years (Q1, Q3: 16, 18), and found that 43% of participants identified their ethnicity as Zulu, 52% reported high food insecurity, 37% reported at least one parent had died, 15% reported living in a shack and 83% identified as heterosexual. Over half of the participants (55%) reported ever having sex (49% of females and 64% of males), 11% of whom initiated sex at < 15 years of age (3% females and 21% males). Almost half (47%) reported ever testing for HIV, 3% (n = 12) of whom self-reported being HIV-positive and 33% (n = 4) were on antiretroviral therapy.
Conclusion: Our study highlights important individual, relational and structural level determinants of HIV risk for adolescent men and women growing up within HIV hyperendemic settings.
Cari L Miller, Busisiwe Nkala, Kalysha Closson, Jason Chia, Zishan Cui, Alexis Palmer, Robert Hogg, Angela Kaida, Glenda Gray, Janan Dietrich