Durban, Tuesday 15 February 2022 – Today, the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) and partners launched the KwaZulu-Natal chapter of the sixth South African HIV Prevalence, Incidence, Behaviour and Communication Survey (SABSSM VI) to gather information on HIV incidence, prevalence and other related indicators in South Africa.
First commissioned by Former President Nelson Mandela in 2001, the study is a population-based, cross-sectional survey of households throughout South Africa.
According to the Overall Principal Investigator Prof Khangelani Zuma of the HSRC, the survey is conducted to understand the factors driving the HIV epidemic and its dynamics and is used to inform policies and strategies to tackle the epidemic.
The survey is repeated approximately every five 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 COVID-19 in South Africa.
The South African National AIDS Council (SANAC) is a long-time collaborator of the project. SANAC CEO Dr Thembisile Xulu said: “This study is arguably the most important health survey done in the county. It gives us an up-to-date picture of HIV prevalence and incidence. Plus, it helps us identify hot spot areas, so that the Department of Health and Department of Social Development can develop highly targeted interventions to address the spread of HI and provide treatment to those that need it most.”
What is the aim of the survey?
The data gathered during the survey is used to determine the HIV prevalence, incidence, antiretroviral treatment (ART) exposure, viral load suppression, HIV drug resistance, and risk behaviors in South Africa. This information is critical in shaping our country’s HIV policy.
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 will take place across all 9 provinces and is targeting a total of 93 000 participants from approximately 25 000 households. In KZN we will be approaching around 20 000 participants to take part in the survey.
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.
“When Mandela first launched this survey in 2001, he acknowledged the importance of using data to get an accurate picture of the HIV pandemic and its impact on the country. At the time we surveyed 9 000 people and we are delighted that the survey has grown in magnitude and makes such a valuable contribution to providing people with access to testing and treatment to ensure that they live long and healthy lives,” said Mr Sello Hatang, the Nelson Mandela Foundation chief executive.
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 some of the participants, 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). At the launch, CDC Country Director Dr John Blandford said: “The success of this survey rests with the South African people. Despite concerns around COVID-19 and safety, we encourage all the selected households to participate. By completing the survey, people are making a direct contribution to shaping South African government’s health policies and ensuring that all the people that need testing and treatment get it.”
With the continued highest burden of disease in KwaZulu-Natal, this survey is imperative to assess the gains, weaknesses and challenges that are still faced by the province. There has been a great investment by PEPFAR into programmes and interventions in the province, and this survey will give us an insight into how the HIV epidemic has shifted over the last five years.
The survey will assist government to identify gaps in the treatment cascade. It will also assist with tracking the trend of new infections in the province over time as well as identify additional high risk groups and areas that will require new and renewed focus.
SABSSM VI 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.
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About the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC)
The HSRC was established in 1968 as South Africa’s statutory research agency and has grown to become the largest dedicated research institute in the social sciences and humanities on the African continent, performing cutting-edge public research in areas that are crucial to development.
Our mandate is to inform the effective formulation and monitoring of government policy; to evaluate policy implementation; to stimulate public debate through the effective dissemination of research-based data and fact-based research results; to foster research collaboration; and to help build research capacity and infrastructure for the human sciences.
The Council conducts large-scale, policy-relevant, social-scientific research for public sector users, non-governmental organisations and international development agencies. Research activities and structures are closely aligned with South Africa’s national development priorities.
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