HIV/AIDS in South Africa: A Review of Sexual Behavior among Adolescents

By Hartell, Cycil George | Adolescence, Spring 2005 | Go to article overview
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HIV/AIDS in South Africa: A Review of Sexual Behavior among Adolescents

Hartell, Cycil George, Adolescence

In South Africa, HIV is spread mainly through sexual contact between men and women (Department of Education, 1999). An estimated 7 million South Africans are HIV-positive with the highest prevalence rates among young people, especially teenage girls (Department of Education, 1999, 2001; Coombe, 2002). Findings of a HIV/AIDS survey by the South African Department of Health among pregnant women attending public antenatal clinics show that the prevalence of HIV/ AIDS among pregnant women under the age of 20 years has risen 65.4% from 1997 to 1998 (Department of Education, 1999).

The scale of the AIDS epidemic among youth in South Africa is enormous and HIV/AIDS continues its deadly course. Throughout South Africa, the AIDS epidemic is affecting large number of adolescents, leading to serious psychological, social, economic, and educational problems (Department of Education, 2001; Coombe, 2002).

When it is considered that 40% of the South African population is less than 15 years of age and that 15.64% of the South African youth between the ages of 15-24 is infected with HIV, one recognizes that HIV/AIDS represents a devastating pandemic among the youth of South Africa (Coombe, 2002; Department of Education, 2001). This points to the need for research on the sexual behavior of this group. Information on existing knowledge about the sexual behavior among adolescents can provide an important base for educational interventions aimed at reducing further transmission. What is being written could be crucial in informing the course and impact of the disease, and how its effects can be systematically addressed. This is especially the case with respect to educational research and publications. It is therefore important to have a clear sense of what is being researched and published (however limited) on this subject (sexual behavior of adolescents) in South Africa today.

Accordingly the main aim of this paper is to provide a comprehensive analytical review of available research concerning the sexual behavior of adolescents in South Africa. Second, it is to determine from the research findings why HIV infections among adolescents in South Africa are high. Third, it aims to determine the impact of AIDS education programs on the sexual behavior of adolescents. Fourth, it is to make recommendations for future preventative interventions.

Research Strategy

The following sources were identified in order to collect data on available research on the sexual behavior of adolescents: interviews with leading individual researchers working in the area of HIV/MDS and education; summation of research on HIV/AIDS and education by the major research organizations; review of (hard copy) journal-published research on this subject; synthesis of on-line journal research publications; summaries of theses and dissertations conducted on this topic; studies of research proposals representing research in progress which has not yet been completed for publication; and review of AIDS Conference abstracts. In reviewing the various data sources, the analytic strategy was to ask: Who is writing what, about whom, from where, for whom, in what forums, with what results, using what methods and in which communities?


Sexual Behavior of Adolescents in South Africa

An important finding of the 1998 South African Demographic and Health Survey was that although awareness and knowledge about HIV and AIDS are high among adolescents in South Africa, this has not translated into substantial behavior change (Galloway, 1999). Results of an extensive research show a high awareness about HIV and AIDS (97% of respondents). However, detailed knowledge that would enable behavior change, was not as high. For example, 10% said that staying with one faithful partner and using a condom will not protect them from HIV/AIDS. Further, the majority felt that they are not susceptible to HIV infection.

A survey by Harvey (1997) found that the knowledge, attitudes, and behavior related to AIDS among Standard 8 (Grade 10) Zulu-speaking students (N = 1,511) in KwaZulu-Natal were on the whole inadequate to provide a foundation for developing safer sexual behaviors.

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