Pretoria, Monday 18 July 2022 – The Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) is appealing to all South Africans to continue their participation in the sixth South African HIV Prevalence, Incidence, Behaviour and Communication Survey (SABSSM VI) which was launched in February this year.
The study, which was first commissioned by former President Nelson Mandela in 2001, is a population-based, cross-sectional survey of households throughout South Africa. The survey is conducted to better understand the factors driving the HIV epidemic, and to inform public health policies and programmes.
Currently, over 30 percent of the targeted Small Area Layers (SALs) have already been completed since the launch of the survey. Just over 550 SALs were completed for SABSSM by mid-June, while 150 were completed for COVID-19.
The overall Principal Investigator, Prof Khangelani Zuma, the divisional executive of the HSRC’s Human and Social Capabilities research division, expressed his gratitude to those who have already participated.
“We are still calling on all South Africans to open their doors for us so that our researchers can collect information to help improve South Africa’s health care system,” he added.
By conducting surveys and collecting blood samples from homes across the country, we can better understand where the country is in the fight against HIV, COVID-19 and other diseases. This is a unique opportunity for South Africans to contribute towards the development of effective HIV prevention and treatment programmes.”
The survey is repeated every 3-5 years. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the first round of the survey. One important addition to the study year is that a sub-sample of participants will be randomly selected to test for SARS-Cov-2 antibodies, letting us better understand the true impact of SARS-Cov-2 on South Africa.
According to Minister of Health Dr Joe Phaahla, the department is eagerly awaiting the findings of this important survey. “It will assist the department in tracking the progress made in combating the HIV epidemic in South Africa. Therefore, we would like to encourage community members to participate in the survey,” said Dr Phaahla.
What is the aim of the survey?
The data gathered during the survey will be used to determine the HIV prevalence, incidence, antiretroviral treatment (ART) exposure, viral load suppression, drug resistance, and risk behaviors in South Africa. This information is critically important in shaping our country’s HIV policy and intervention programmes. In addition, we shall also look at the prevalence of COVID-19 antibodies and the various factors that affect it. This will help the country to better understand the dynamics of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The HSRC uses cutting-edge technology and a vast network of fieldworkers to engage with people across the length and breadth of the country, to ensure that the data gathered is accurate and useful in shaping policy and strategy at the highest level.
The study is taking place across all 9 provinces and is targeting a total of 93 000 participants from approximately 25 000 households.
Field workers have already started working in communities and will continue throughout 2022. The success of the survey depends on people across the country opening their doors and allowing our field workers into their homes to complete the survey.
What does the survey involve?
Fieldworkers, who will be identifiable by their HSRC-marked bibs and identity cards, will introduce themselves and provide an explanation as to the purpose of the study. Once a participant has consented to participate, our field workers will:
- Complete a questionnaire on the health behaviour of the participant using a tablet; and
- Collect a blood sample to test for HIV, and for SARS-CoV-2 antibodies, provided the participant consents to testing after completing the questionnaire.
If a participant consents to being tested for HIV, our HIV testing and counselling (HTS) data collectors will provide pre- and post-test counselling according to the South African National HTS guidelines. If a person tests HIV-positive, the HTS counsellor will link them to HIV treatment with their consent.
Our fieldworkers only need one hour to complete the survey. Participants’ safety is our number one priority, so all our field teams follow strict COVID-19 protocols, precautions, and measures at all times. In addition, all information gathered is stored securely and in line with the Protection of Personal Information Act.
The survey is funded by the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) through the US Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC). It is conducted by the HSRC in partnership with the CDC, South African Medical Research Council, the University of Cape Town, and the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, and PEPFAR South Africa.