HIV AIDS. Picture: THINKSTOCK
HIV AIDS. Picture: THINKSTOCK

The Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) is undertaking a comprehensive study of risky behaviour and other factors driving the spread of HIV/AIDS in SA.

The fifth national HIV prevalence, incidence, behaviour and communication study will survey more than 60,000 South Africans for nine months. The aim is to identify risky behaviour and social factors that increase South Africans’ chances of contracting the disease.

The study aims to determine prevalence in specific districts and to estimate exposure to antiretroviral therapy, the number of men circumcised and the breastfeeding behaviours of HIV-positive mothers, allowing HSRC to determine trends in HIV prevalence.

SA has the largest HIV/AIDS treatment programme in the world, with an estimated 3.6-million people on antiretroviral treatment, putting fiscal constraints on the national health budget. In 2016-17, R17.5bn was allocated to HIV programmes, and antiretroviral treatment was the largest contributor to HIV and AIDS spending, accounting for 56%-77% of the total cost.

The national study is funded by the US President’s Emergency Program for AIDS relief (Pepfar), and just more than $5m has been injected into the survey through the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

CDC country director Dr Nancy Nay said SA was a strategic partner and this was an important collaborative project in HIV/AIDS research. Nay said the CDC had full funding for this financial year until October and hoped more activities would be funded.

"We are very assured of the quite substantial funding coming from PEPFAR; we are flatlined from last year and all of the agencies implementing Pepfar have $410m," she said.

Since 2005, the US government has been collaborating with local bodies in HIV/AIDS research, having contributed more than $15m to research.

Fieldwork

Fieldworkers began collecting data in December 2016 and will continue distributing questionnaires and collecting blood samples from children and adults from 21,885 households in 13 districts, until September 2017.

South African National Aids Council (Sanac) chairperson Mapaseka Steve Letsike said he hoped the fieldworkers would also teach participants about available care, support and health options.

Government spending on HIV/AIDS has tripled since 2007-08 and is expected to average R913m over the current medium-term framework.

However, government medicine pricing interventions including price regulation, mandatory offering of generic substitutions and the application of a single exit price, have been described as anticompetitive.

Results of the study will be available in December 2017.

Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund CEO Sello Hatang said the study was in line with Mandela’s vision to enhance the lives of those affected by HIV/AIDS and restore their dignity.

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