With only two months into South Africa’s National HIV & Behaviour Survey, teams of field workers collecting behavioural survey data and blood samples across the country have reported “an encouraging response rate from the public,” according to Professor Leickness Simbayi, Deputy CEO for Research at the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) and overall Principal Investigator of the study.
The study started briefly in December in KwaZulu-Natal, in January in Western Cape and Gauteng, and finally in February and March in the rest of the provinces, targeting 60 000 randomly but scientifically selected individuals across the country. By the end of April, the study had been completed in one fifth (20%) of the 1,457 Small Area Layers (SALs) spread across the nine provinces. We thank the many South Africans whose households were randomly pre-selected to participate and their families have gladly accepted to answer the socio-behavioural survey questions and also offered a few drops of blood for HIV testing.
However, a significant portion of the public has been reluctant to partake in the blood sample collection part of the survey.
The results of this household survey are dependent on both the information gathered from the completion of the questionnaires as well as the provision of a blood sample. “The reluctance to offer a blood sample is a major concern for the whole team,” he says. “In addition to measuring HIV incidence and prevalence, tests will also be done to detect viral load, exposure to antiretroviral medicines and drug resistance in individuals who are undergoing treatment. Therefore, blood specimens are crucial in this survey.”
We appeal to our fellow South Africans to note that:
- The information we gather from each household is confidential and no one else will know the information that is given or what the laboratory tests reveal
- it is important for as many people who are approached to take part in order for the results to be representative of the whole country. If they would like to know their HIV results, there are mobile HIV testing services that will be in their areas and will be able to provide this service to them. Alternatively, interested people may ask that their survey test results are returned to them to a clinic nearest to them which will be done via the laboratories that are conducting the HIV tests.
“To truly inform our health policies and help make decisions that will benefit all South Africans, the survey must include a scientifically selected sample that is representative of the whole country, rich or poor and of all educational levels,” says Simbayi.
“With another four to five months to go in the study, I would like to appeal to all the pre-selected households to offer their full co-operation to our field workers and allow them to conduct behavioural interviews and also take some drops of blood, regardless of whether they have been previously tested and are aware of their HIV status or not.
“The results will have significant implications for the country’s HIV/AIDS policies and will also help us to determine the appropriate national responses needed to address some of ongoing challenges that will be identified,” concludes Simbayi.
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