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Press Releases

23 February 2012

National health survey needs you

Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC)
Press Release

The Fourth South African National HIV, Behaviour and Health Survey (SABSSM 4), undertaken by the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) every 3 years, has been underway for just over a month. Fifty seven teams of field-workers are visiting selected homes in order to understand the health, behaviour, and HIV status of the people of South Africa.

Reports from the field are encouraging – over a thousand households have agreed to participate, and 3500 household members have agreed to participate. This has already provided much valuable knowledge for the principal investigators of the study, Dr Olive Shisana, CEO of the HSRC, and Professors Leickness Simbayi, Thomas Rehle, and Demetre Labadarios. However, with 14 000 households still to go, and certain areas, particularly the more affluent ones, presenting the teams with some difficulty in gaining access, the HSRC continues to appeal to all South Africans to participate and contribute to a successful study.

“To truly inform our health policies and make decisions that will benefit our entire country,  our survey must include  a sample of the whole country, rich and poor, HIV negative or HIV positive, and of all educational levels,” said Dr Shisana. “With another five months of the study still to go, I’d like to appeal to all the households selected to offer their full co-operation to our field-workers, ensuring that their health behaviours inform the study findings. The results will have significant implications for the country’s future health policy and appropriate response mechanisms to current health challenges.”

The study has two components – , questionnaires are administered and a blood specimen is drawn. “If your household was selected to become part of the study, we encourage all members to answer all the questions asked, including health situation, behaviour and social circumstances. We encourage parents to allow their children to also participate in the study so that we can obtain information that can be used for planning health services” said Dr Shisana.

We wish to encourage everyone who agrees to participate to also voluntarily provide a few drops of blood for HIV testing. It is important to note that, to protect the identity of those who participate, their names are not used, and instead we use bar codes. The blood drops drawn and tested form a vital part of the study, whether the persons are HIV positive or negative. This is in spite of whether someone one already knows their HIV status or not. Even if a person was tested for HIV before, we encourage them to provide a sample for this survey so that we can have accurate information for the country.

Only a few drops of blood are collected; we use a pin prick and not a needle. The results are kept confidential. If someone wishes to find out their HIV status, they will be encouraged to go to the nearest HIV Counselling and Testing clinic where they can undergo both pre- and post-test counselling before they are informed about their results. They will choose whether or not they want to collect their test results.

The HSRC expects to complete the data analysis part of the study and write up the report by the end of September 2012. The findings will be released to the public a month later.
Field-workers are dressed in HSRC t-shirts and carry identification issued by the HSRC.
If you wish to confirm the legitimacy of a fieldworker, you can call the following Project Directors:

    •    Mr Sean Jooste – (021) 466 7942 and Dr Njeri Wabiri on (012) 302 2035, or the
Project Managers:
    •    Ms Ntombizodwa Mbelle – (012) 302 2614 and Mr Johan van Zyl on (012) 302 2726.

SABSSM 4, funded by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the USA, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), is the fourth such study, with the first one conducted in 2002, and repeated in 2005 and 2008. These studies have provided critical information on the course of the HIV epidemic in South Africa. The focus of the 2012 survey has been expanded to include a wide range of health information including the health of infants and mothers, child health, and emerging interventions such as male circumcision. It also addresses issues such as psychological health and behavioural risk, for example, alcohol abuse and drug use.
For further enquiries, contact Tshililo Ragimana on tel.011 440 4841, cell phone 079 953 2099, or Also consult the accompanying Fact Sheet for more background information on the study.